Questions and caution as California looks at single-tunnel water project

The dual-tunnel California WaterFix project is off the drawing board, but concerns about what might replace it remain as long as the state works on a promised assessment of a single-tunnel project for the Sacramento River Delta. This article takes a look at how that assessment process has begun, noting that much of the specifics of the project remain undefined, including “the path the tunnel would take, its capacity, and the number and location of intakes.”
River advocates are questioning the process. “This whole series of meetings with the water contractors and DWR, without really any meaningful public input, is putting the cart on the top of the horse. I wouldn’t even say it’s putting the cart before the horse. It can’t go anywhere,” said Michael Brodsky, legal council for Save the California Delta Alliance. Meanwhile, Restore the Delta said they will “evaluate the single tunnel proposal with an honest, factual, critical eye when the proposal is brought forward,” with the goal of protecting “fisheries and water quality for all Delta communities.

Weed CA and Mt. Shasta water featured in documentary series

Weed, CA water rights, Mount Shasta and the topic of water bottling and water privatization will be the focus of the fourth episode of an upcoming series on food and water, produced by UK’s Fusion/LightBox Productions. Here’s a one minute trailer advertising the 8-part series. While the Weed area water protectors are only on screen for 5 seconds, starting at 0:34, they make their point, and the whole series looks like it will be worth checking out.

Episodes will be posted online shortly after the airtime, and the water program is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17. The first three in the series are available here.

Restore the Delta: State Water Resources Control Board Fails To Conduct Impartial And Fair Hearings Regarding California WaterFix

STOCKTON, CA – Today, the State Water Resources Control Board issued a ruling that restarts California WaterFix hearings despite a change in the project for the proposed Delta tunnels (link to ruling to here). Recent motions to stay the hearing included intense criticism from Delta cities, counties, farmers, and environmental groups (protestants). The protestants had filed motions to stay the hearings as testimony in the tunnels hearings to date had assumed two tunnels constructed and operated simultaneously. Protestants argued that DWR’s recent announcement of a phased-in project, in which one larger tunnel would be built first with a second tunnel added later, would impair their cases. Due process, they argued, would require delay in the hearings to permit protestants a fair chance to prepare revised testimony.

Beginning in August 2015, Governor Brown’s tunnels project, branded as “California WaterFix,” has sought a water rights permit from the State Water Resources Control Board. Until just recently, its developer, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), has described the project as two tunnels fed by three separate intakes along the Sacramento River that would send water south to Clifton Court Forebay and the Banks Pumping Plant near Tracy.

When water contractors raised significant cost and financing concerns, DWR came to the State Water Board on February 8, 2018, to announce officially that it would build one tunnel with two intakes as the first phase of the tunnels project, but that it was not changing its water rights application for two tunnels and three intakes. DWR also stated it would prepare a “supplemental environmental impact report” on project changes (expected in June 2018).

Making matters worse, California Public Records Act requests in December 2017 by some protestants revealed that Water Board officials held numerous meetings and email contacts discussing with DWR staff modeling and other technical issues associated with the tunnels permit application—an apparent violation of the Board’s own “ex parte” rules. The Board rejected calls from protestants to stop the hearing and resolve the accusation of ex parte violations immediately to restore trust in the process for all concerned on February 6, 2018.

Several Protestants Respond:
Bill Jennings, executive director for California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said, “The State Water Resources Control Board has discarded due process, abandoned any pretense of being an independent regulatory agency, and revealed its intention to approve this disastrous project regardless of testimony and evidence.”

Tim Stroshane, policy analyst for Restore the Delta, stated, “The State Water Resources Control Board ruling today confirms that the Board is letting the California Department of Water Resources drive the hearing process on the tunnels. Their rationale is flimsy and poorly justified, claiming it is more efficient to have the hearing go forward despite uncertainties about the project that are of DWR’s making. The tail is wagging the dog here.”

Attorney Thomas Keeling (representing San Joaquin County) said, “The California Department of Water Resources petitioned for approval of the twin tunnels project, staggering in its cost and its likely adverse environmental, social, and economic impacts. Now, as the hearing on that petition enters its third year, DWR has substantially changed the project. It has pulled a bait-and-switch on not only the counties, cities, environmental protection groups, and others who oppose the twin tunnels – but on the State Water Board itself. DWR’s brazen disregard for the rules governing the Board’s decision-making is stunning. Yet, now the Board has given DWR another free pass, confirming the fears of those who say the Board operates on two sets of rules: one for DWR, and one for everyone else. California deserves better. Delta communities deserve better. The Delta ecosystem deserves better.

“In addition, the unlawful ex parte communications disclosed in connection with the Board’s hearing on the project not only violate California law – they undermine the integrity and reputation of the Board itself. Through our motion, the Board was given an opportunity to step-up, fulfill its legal and ethical obligations, and restore public confidence in its decision-making. Sadly, for all Californians – not just the Delta — the Board has declined to take that opportunity. As a result, the ex parte communications will irrevocably taint the Board’s decision-making on the project going forward.”

Deirdre Des Jardins, principal with California Water Research added, “DWR is proposing a huge new diversion on the Sacramento River with no limits on the rate of pumping, and no bypass requirements in the permit from the State Water Resources Board. Pumping limits will only be triggered by the presence of endangered Winter or Spring Run Chinook salmon, and will be determined in the future. It is difficult to see how the petition ever got accepted for filing, let alone got this far.”

Bob Wright, Friends of the River senior counsel said, “The State Water Resources Control Board has had two faces. With one face they told the public and protestants, no ex parte (secret and private) communications with us. With the other face, they had numerous ex parte meetings with the Department of Water Resources to secretly help DWR get approval for the diversion change they need for the water tunnels.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director for Restore the Delta, concluded, “The State Water Board today has shredded the last bit of faith we had that the hearing process would be conducted fairly and equitably—that the Board would hold to a standard of conduct that would be above reproach, regardless of the decision they may make on Governor Brown’s tunnels fiasco. Clearly, they are under the thumb of Governor Brown, and no longer function in an independent manner.”

Breaking: House Democrats seek GAO probe into federal scheme to fund Delta Tunnels

By Dan Bacher, Restore the Delta, October 24, 2017

Six House Democrats today asked the GAO, the federal watchdog agency that conducts investigations and audits on behalf of Congress, to issue a legal opinion about the Bureau of Reclamation’s funding scheme. The penalty for this type of misuse of public money can include removal from office. Here is the news release just in from Congressman Jared Huffman’s office:

Led by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the Natural Resources Committee’s Ranking Member, six House Democrats are calling on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to open a new investigation into the misuse of taxpayer funds by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, following last month’s revelations that tens of millions of dollars were secretly spent by the federal agency to subsidize private interests and help develop plans for a massive new California water project.

In its September audit, the Interior Department’s Inspector General found that the Bureau of Reclamation improperly subsidized the planning process for the California WaterFix project, also known as the “Delta Tunnels.” The audit identified at least $84 million in taypayer funds spent without disclosure to Congress as required by law, and kept hidden from other water users, stakeholders, and the public.

According to the Inspector General, at least $50 million of this total should have been paid by the local water agencies that sought to benefit from the massive infrastructure project, such as the powerful Westlands Water District. Instead, those costs were secretly reassigned by the Bureau of Reclamation so that taxpayers would pay most of the water districts’ share.

With today’s letter, the lawmakers are asking the GAO, the federal watchdog agency that conducts investigations and audits on behalf of Congress, to issue a legal opinion about the Bureau of Reclamation’s funding scheme. The penalty for this type of misuse of public money can include removal from office.

The Inspector General’s audit found that the controversial funding plan was first launched in 2008, during the period when David Bernhardt was the department’s top lawyer. Upon leaving the department, Bernhardt became one of the top lobbyists for the Westlands Water District, the major beneficiary of this funding plan. He has now returned to the Interior Department as Deputy Secretary. In responses to the Inspector General, Interior Department staff have indicated that there are no plans to recoup these millions of dollars in taxpayer funds that were spent without authorization or rationale.

In addition to Rep. Huffman and Rep. Grijalva, the letter was also signed by Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), and Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA).

The full text of the letter can be found at the bottom of the Daily Kos’ article here.

Restore the Delta’s Response to Westlands Water District’s Vote on California WaterFix

FRESNO, Calif.— Restore the Delta issued an official statement on Westlands Water District’s vote on the California WaterFix.

Executive Director of Restore the Delta, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said:

“Today is a very good day for California. By rejecting California WaterFix, the Westlands Water District has dealt a blow to the project. There are many better solutions for creating a sustainable water supply in California. Metropolitan Water District’s math is based on a sizable contribution from Westlands, so is Santa Clara Valley Water District’s. They now have to come up with a lot more money for the Delta Tunnels. It won’t pencil out for them either.”

In other water news… The Los Angeles City Council environmental committee decided on a “no vote” for the Delta Tunnels project until the project is fully financed and Metropolitan Water District meets all their considerations. Yesterday, over 40 ratepayers caught media attention in their “No Tunnels, No Water Rate Hike” rally in front of Los Angeles City Hall, watch the coverage in the LA Daily News and NBC Los Angeles, also in Spanish speaking media Telemundo.

Also, Santa Clara Valley Water District voted to pass a “no regrets package” planning $100 million for 9 different projects like stormwater capture, leak repair and gray water (these are all better solutions to the Delta Tunnels). Make sure you show up for their public meeting on September 26th to tell them to vote no on the Delta Tunnels.


Restore the Delta finds gaping holes in MWD White Paper #3

Restore the Delta issued a formal response to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s third and final white paper on the Delta Tunnels. The response illuminates the gaping holes in MWD’s financial analysis on various CA WaterFix costs.

Executive Director of Restore the Delta, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said:
“MWD’s failure to analyze water costs in dry and drought years and water use by consumers so as to determine the real cost per household for WaterFix make this analysis invalid. MWD staff clearly wants to build this project so that water can be sold for maximum profit.”

Policy Analyst for Restore the Delta, Tim Stroshane said:
“With its latest financing paper, MWD pedals a wish and a prayer to its board that a $17 billion Tunnels project will only cost its 6.2 million residential customers $2 to $3 per month. MWD’s rosy picture omits the cost of their customers’ Tunnels water use. This is analytical malpractice of the highest order.”

Policy Advocate for the Sierra Club (CA) Kyle Jones said: 
“Metropolitan Water District continues to paint the Tunnels in the best light, using the lowest cost estimates possible. This proposed fantasy ignores costs of mitigation for their environmental harm, and assumes that all contractors are willing to pay for this $68 billion boondoggle. Metropolitan also cherry picks alternative options for the Tunnels that look at only the most expensive options. Any true alternatives analysis, including conservation, efficiency, and groundwater cleanup, would show that there’s a better path forward for Metropolitan customers to develop a climate-resilient water system that isn’t conditioned on destroying the San Francisco Bay Delta.”

University of the Pacific Economist Dr. Jeff Michael and NRDC Senior Attorney Doug Obegi expressed similar sentiments in their respective analyses on MWD white paper #3. We thank them for their ongoing commitment to discovering the true costs and financial irresponsibility of the CA WaterFix project.

To read Obegi’s blog, click here.

To read Michael’s blog, click here.

To read Restore the Delta’s response, click here.


Delta Tunnel opponents say Fed biological opinion ignores best available science

by Restore the Delta

Today’s decision by the Trump Administration attempts to green light the controversial Delta Tunnels project.

The decision was quickly denounced by San Francisco Bay-Delta activists who say the “best available science” about endangered species who depend on a healthy Bay-Delta was not fully considered, and may have been politically manipulated.

The biological opinion approves an “Incidental Take Permit” that would give the project a permission to harm and even kill federally protected species in the building and operation of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed Delta Tunnels (also known as “California WaterFix.”)

“The science in this decision was cherry-picked and not representative of the true scope of harm to endangered species who depend on a healthy San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary for their survival,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “We are pursuing legal remedies with our coalition.”

In April of this year, the findings of an Independent Review Panel found serious deficiencies in the Draft Biological Opinion.

“The Independent Review Panel report suggested that the biological opinion had serious flaws and that the Delta Tunnels will be terrible for Delta fish—those that live here year-round as well as those just passing through on their way to and from the Pacific Ocean,” said Tim Stroshane, Policy Analyst for Restore the Delta.

Yet the final decision by the Trump’s NOAA found “No Significant Impact” (FONSI). This is exactly the opposite from the conclusion made by the Independent Review Panel.

NOAA’s decision of no jeopardy comes despite the 12 percent reduction in salmon smolt due to reduced water flows through the Delta. Another 7 percent of salmon smolt are killed by faulty fish screens. Other threatened and endangered species continue to decline as more water is taken out of the Delta.

“What agencies have marketed as ‘adaptive management’ is basically trial and error management. They are saying, ‘Trust us to build it, we will figure out how to fix the harms we cause later.’ That just isn’t acceptable,” explained Stroshane.


Stewardship Council actions threaten Delta water, ecosystem

Over the objections of Delta residents and environmental groups, including Restore the Delta, the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) endorsed proposed conveyance and storage amendments to the Delta Plan yesterday that aid the Brown Administration and special interest water districts attempting to fast-track the Delta Tunnels (also known as “California WaterFix”) proposal.

Individuals and groups opposed to the Delta Tunnels proposal requested the Council to follow Delta Reform Act mandates to reduce reliance on the Delta, invest in existing levees, protect fish, and stop the damage from operation of the state and federal water pumps near Tracy.

The council’s actions threaten to reduce local water supply reliability in order to supply areas hundred of miles away that that have failed to sustainably manage local water supplies. The Council also failed to complete a basic assessment demonstrating availability of water and cost-benefit for ratepayers, and has left state environmental justice policies unaddressed.

In a statement released yesterday, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, charged the Governor’s office with focusing “solely on creating winners and losers in California in regards to who will get water. Thus far, Delta urban and farming communities, and California’s endangered fisheries are being set up to be the losers. But we will continue to fight back in the courts and in the court of public opinion.”

Cuts to drought response in California budget shortchange resilience, access to water

Governor Brown’s revised state budget axed more than $100 in funding for drought response. This is a shortsighted response to what could very well be an ongoing problem of weather extremes–both droughts and storms that severely test the state’s water infrastructure, agricultural sector, and overall climate resilience.

According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News , a proposed budget increase of $179 million was reduced to $63 million, as a result of the five-year drought’s official “end” in April.

Much of the smaller increase will go to CalFire, which faces the fire risk of more than 100 million dead trees in the Sierra Nevada, and to helping with emergency water supplies in Central Valley towns which lost water wells to the drought. There will also be about $12 million earmarked for inspections at large dams in California and to beef up emergency plans and flood maps in order to prepare for events similar to the Oroville Dam emergency earlier this year.


But deep cuts in drought management funds imperil the kind of broad climate-focused planning that the state needs to do to prepare for a probable future of increasing “drought or deluge” weather patterns. Funding ought to be retained to investigate and establish best practices for water conservation and efficiency, especially while the effects of five years of drought are still fresh in the public mind.

Moreover, long range planning must be rooted in principles of environmental justice. Water is a human right, and scarce resources must go first to the people who will use it for basic human needs–drinking and sanitation.

We call for California to go into long-term climate resilience, conservation, and efficiency studies with an eye to making these practices the cornerstone of a sustainable California water system–not the controversial Delta Tunnels project. We agree with Executive Director of Restore the Delta Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla that “the only way to guarantee a sustainable future for California is to plan for prolonged droughts punctuated by cycles of flood and to create water efficiency projects at the local level. This was done in Australia when they abandoned their large pipeline project for local water conservation systems. The Delta tunnels will not serve Californians during periods of drought, or during flood when waters are filled with sediment.”

Long-term drought will be back–it’s not “if” but “when.” When California again goes years with rainfall and snowpack far below necessary levels, systems built on efficiency and conservation can defend drinking water and public health by ensuring that existing water supplies are protected and directed where they are most needed: to drinking water, sanitation, the management of our fisheries, environmentally-appropriate agriculture, and the preservation of our environment.

San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors Denies Phillips 66’s Oil Trains Project

The San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors yesterday voted to reject Phillips 66’s proposed oil train offloading terminal. The project was denied with a 3-1 vote, with one supervisor recusing himself in a conflict of interest.

Phillips 66 had appealed the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission decision to reject their controversial oil train project last October, which came after a nearly three-year review process. More than 34,000 Californians have opposed the project in comments and petitions, and more than 45 cities, counties, and school boards have sent letters urging the County to deny the crude-by-rail proposal. The Board of Supervisors’ denial was the second community victory in less than a week, after a Superior Court judge ruled that Phillips’ legal challenge to the earlier Planning Commission decision was premature.

If built, the Phillips 66 oil trains terminal would have allowed more than 7 million gallons of crude oil to be shipped via rail to its local refinery each week, and made it possible for Phillips 66 to refine volatile and carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canada. Tar sands crude, when prepared for transport, is thinned with an unstable blend of chemicals that have been known to explode in derailment incidents, which have become increasingly frequent in recent years.

Trains servicing the Phillips 66 project would have traveled from the north and south through hundreds of major California cities and smaller communities, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, Davis, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose. These trains also would have jeopardized numerous ecologically sensitive areas including the San Francisco Bay and California’s iconic central coast.

Public interest groups released the following statements:

“I am so glad to see the Supervisors stand with the people in this community and beyond by denying this dangerous, city and detrimental project. The San Luis Obispo City Council has had a consistent stance against this project and for the renewable energy future we need. This genie fits perfectly into the city’s major city goal of putting action into our Climate Action Plan.”
—Heidi Harmon, Mayor of San Luis Obispo

“This is a huge victory for public safety, health and California’s environment. It’s really gratifying to know that the board of supervisors listened to those who spoke out against this project – every day Californians from all walks of life as well as more than 45 cities, counties and school boards. Hopefully this spells the end to this reckless plan. Our communities will be safer and our air will be cleaner because of it.”
—Valerie Love, Clean Energy Campaigner, Center for Biological Diversity

“San Luis Obispo County has succeeded in taking the fork in the road away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy economy. We are living in an era that requires vigilance against the normalization of terrible ideas and disastrous policies. Our supervisors’ just showed that they understand that building a terminal for tar sands crude oil in Nipomo and transporting 7 million gallons a week of the world’s dirtiest fuel into the county by rail is a bad idea. We expect we will have to continue to help Phillips 66 understand that.”
—Andrew Christie, Chapter Director, Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter

“This is a tremendous victory for the people of San Luis Obispo County and communities across California. The voices of thousands of California residents and dozens of cities, counties, and school boards have been heard: there is no place for oil trains in California’s communities. Now, we can focus our attention towards building the clean energy economy in San Luis Obispo and beyond.”
—Ethan Buckner, Senior Organizer with

““We applaud the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors for considering all the evidence, listening to concerned citizens throughout the State, and denying this dangerous project,” said Linda Krop, Chief Counsel for the Environmental Defense Center. “The Board’s action was the right decision and the only possible decision if the goal is to keep our communities and environment safe.”
—Linda Krop, Chief Counsel, Environmental Defense Center

“This is a tremendous victory for people power over corporate power. Californians around the state have rejected these dangerous bomb train projects using local authority to defeat Billion Oil’s greedy plans.”
—Andres Soto, Communities for a Better Environment

“San Luis Obispo County just confirmed what tens of thousands of Californians have been saying for years: Expanding fossil fuel infrastructure is a disastrous idea. Today’s decision is a monumental victory for clean air, the fight to slow climate change and the health of local residents. We’ll continue working to pressure other communities in California and nationwide to follow the example set by San Luis Obispo County today and take a stand against fossil fuel infrastructure.”
– Josh Nelson, Deputy Political Director, CREDO