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Bechtel and the Big Dig


Guess who’s funding a report pushing for the building of a peripheral canal on the California Delta? The highly controversial report is “funded in part” by none other than Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., who is with his son, Riley, co-owner of the Bechtel Corporation.

The people and foundations who fund “scientific” reports and studies often reveal what is the real agenda behind the publishing of any document – and I believe that this may be the case with a new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report recommending the construction of a peripheral canal, “Comparing Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.”

The report was released on July 17 with wild acclamation by the Governor’s staff and the state’s water contractors, since it “scientifically” justifies the destruction of the West Coast’s largest estuary by building a canal.

“Today’s report underscores the need for a long-term solution to fixing our water crisis in the Delta,” gushed Lester Snow, Director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). “It is even more clear that we need to resolve the conveyance issue for the betterment of our environment and our economy. The comprehensive water plan offered by Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Feinstein will provide the tools we need not only to invest in Delta sustainability, but also to meet our future water needs with more conservation, new surface and groundwater storage and regional water self sufficiency.”

The PPIC-UC Davis team’s report concludes that “a peripheral canal is not only more promising than the temporary and ultimately unsustainable ‘dual conveyance’ option – which combines the current approach with a canal – but is also the best available strategy to balance two equally important objectives.”

“Coupling a peripheral canal – the least expensive option – with investment in the Delta ecosystem can promote both environmental sustainability and a reliable water supply,” said Ellen Hanak, PPIC associate director and senior fellow.

The report was authored by a “multidisciplinary team” including Hanak, Jay Lund, William Fleenor, William Bennett, Richard Howitt, Jeffrey Mount, and Peter Moyle from the University of California, Davis.

Little noticed in the media reports was where the funding came from. According to the PPIC’s press release: “The new report, Comparing Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, builds on the findings of a 2007 PPIC study by the same team, which concluded that the need for a new Delta strategy is urgent. The new report was funded in part by Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.”

Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. is the son of Stephen David Bechtel, Sr. and grandson of Warren A. Bechtel who founded the Bechtel Corporation. His San Francisco-based foundation, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, has as its overall mission, “to support well-managed non-profit organizations that provide quality programs and create significant sustained benefits in areas of special interest to the Founders and Directors.”

Regarding its environmental programs, the foundation’s website proclaims, “The Foundation believes that the earth and its inhabitants require a fine balance between natural order, conservation of resources, and those demands inherent in growth and development. The Directors have a special interest in the restoration and conservation of California wetlands and waterfowl and the conservation of ecologically significant open spaces that enhance the understanding, use, and enjoyment of the outdoors for all sectors of society.” (

Unfortunately, this “environmental” funding appears to be a clear case of green washing, when you consider the dark history of the Bechtel Corporation. Bechtel, one of the world’s largest engineering and construction firms that is instrumental in the “reconstruction” of Iraq, is a leading advocate throughout the world of the privatization of water systems. It was Bechtel that sued the country of Bolivia for canceling a contract there sponsored by the World Bank.

A CorpWatch report, “Profiting from Destruction,” provides case studies from Bechtel’s history of operating in the water, nuclear, energy and public works sectors. These case studies reveal a legacy of unsustainable and destructive practices that have reaped permanent human, environmental and community devastation around the globe. Letters from “Bechtel affected communities” included in the report provide first-hand descriptions of these impacts, from Bolivia to Native American lands in Nevada. The report reveals a 100-year history spent capitalizing on the most brutal technologies, reaping immense profits and ignoring the social and environmental costs. For more information, go to

Another CorpWatch report details “Bechtel’s Water Wars” in Bolivia. Fortunately, the people of Cochabama rebelled against Bechtel’s scheme to privatize their water system and won.

The role of Stephen Bechtel, Jr. in funding the PPIC report must be exposed. Are we expected to believe that Bechtel’s funding of the report was simply for “altruistic” reasons? Are the scientists who authored this report aware of the Bechtel Corporation’s record of devastation across the globe? And will Bechtel profit from the destruction of California Delta fish, farms and people if a peripheral canal is built? These are questions that must be asked!

Central Valley chinook salmon and Delta fish populations are in a state of collapse, largely due to massive increases in water exports from the Delta in recent years. A broad coalition of recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Delta farmers, Indian Tribes and environmentalists is opposed to the peripheral canal because it would result in the diversion of more water from the Delta and further exacerbate the current fishery collapses.

Restore the Delta, a coalition including Delta farmers, environmentalists, fishermen, business leaders, the faith community, recreation enthusiasts, and everyday folks, issued a powerful statement calling into question many of the findings in the Public Policy Institute’s report.

“Their analysis assumes that water flowing into and out of the Delta remains unchanged when the point of diversion is changed, said Restore the Delta’s Campaign Director, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. “But everyone who lives, works, and recreates in the Delta knows that with less fresh water flowing through the Delta, more salt water will intrude into local waterways.”

In fact, Barrigan-Parrilla said the report makes a highly inaccurate assumption that water quality would improve for farmers near the San Joaquin River, emphasizing that the report’s authors have not engaged in any conversations with local Delta experts, South Delta farmers – some of whom have lived on the land for ninety years.

Barrigan-Parrilla concluded that changes in water quality to the Delta will result in economic chaos for the region. “Neither the PPIC Report authors nor officials with the State have done a full-scale economic analysis of how a change in water quality with the operation of a peripheral canal would impact farming, recreation, or fisheries,” she contended. “It is estimated that Delta farming alone contributes $2 billion per year to our local economy and recreation like boating and fishing another $750 million. If the Delta is made into a salty inland sea, the economic impacts will be devastating to those living in the surrounding five counties of the Delta.”

The PPIC report amounts to being an “elaborate sales brochure” for the peripheral canal, quipped Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. I completely agree, especially when you consider who is funding the report!

DAN BACHER can be reached at:







Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher

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