Jerry Brown’s Corporate Water Grab
State officials today released the California Water Action Plan, an obvious attempt by the Brown administration to win support for construction of the peripheral tunnels by proposing water conservation and ecosystem restoration measures to greenwash the highly-unpopular Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
The California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture describe the document as a “detailed draft action plan to help guide state efforts and resources on one of California’s most important resources, water.”
However, if you’re looking for something new or creative in this 17-page document, you won’t find it. “We are not reinventing the wheel here,” said Natural Resources Secretary John Laird at a news conference. “We are coordinating what’s in place in one location with clear goals as targets for the different agencies.”
In May, Governor Jerry Brown directed the agencies to identify “key actions” for the next one to five years that address “urgent needs” and provide the foundation for “sustainable management” of California’s water resources, according to the agencies. It is anticipated that a final form of the plan will be released in early December.
“The California Water Action Plan will focus on the reliability of our water supply, the needed ecosystem restoration to bring our water system back into balance, and the resilience of our infrastructure,” according to a joint statement from the agencies.
“Over a century ago, California leaders began the development of one of the most complex water systems in the world,” gushed Laird. “Now, with 38 million people and the threat of climate change, we more fully understand the need to strike a balance with the environment. This comprehensive water blueprint for the future will help us find that balance and address long standing water issues in California.”
A review of the alleged “comprehensive water blueprint for the future” indicates it is a thinly-veiled attempt to greenwash the destruction of Sacramento River salmon and Delta fish populations by promoting the twin tunnels as the “solution” to achieving the “coequal goals” of “water supply reliability” and “ecosystem restoration.”
The administration continues to push this $54.1 billion boondoggle even when all of the science indicates that the construction of the tunnels would hasten the extinction of the Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other species while imperiling salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers. The tunnel will deliver massive quantities of water to corporate agribusiness interests irrigating drainage-impaired, selenium-laced land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The Delta section of the document (http://resources.ca.gov/docs/Final_Water_Action_Plan.pdf) is based largely upon the completion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels, an environmentally destructive project opposed by fishermen, environmentalists, Indian Tribes, family farmers, Delta residents and the majority of Californians.
According to page 10 of the document, “State and federal agencies will complete planning for a comprehensive conservation strategy aimed at protecting dozens of species of fish and wildlife in the Delta, while permitting the reliable operation of California’s two biggest water delivery projects. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) would help secure California’s water supply by building new water delivery infrastructure and operating the system to improve the ecological health of the Delta. It would also restore or protect approximately 145,000 acres of habitat to address the Delta’s environmental challenges.”
Of course, to garner support for the twin tunnel boondoggle, the Brown administration is trying to “sweeten the pot” by throwing in some good goals like Klamath River restoration, Salton Sea restoration, water conservation, regional water self-sufficiency and “reducing reliance” on the Bay Delta Ecosystem.
The plan focuses on ten key “actions”:
· Make Conservation a California Way of Life
· Increase Local and Regional Self-Reliance
· Achieve Co-Equal Goals for the Delta
· Protect and Restore Important Ecosystems
· Manage and Prepare for Dry Periods
· Expand Water Storage Capacity
· Provide Safe Drinking Water for All Communities
· Improve Flood Protection
· Increase Operational and Regulatory Efficiency
· Identify Sustainable and Integrated Financing Opportunities
Many of these goals are noble ones. However, I believe that the administration is supporting these conservation and restoration measures in an effort to buy off and co-opt environmental NGOs, fishing groups, Indian Tribes and politicians who would otherwise be opposed to the construction of the tunnels.
Restore the Delta, opponents of the peripheral tunnels, responded to the release of the draft plan by calling it an effort to “greenwash the water grab.”
Restore the Delta Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said, “The Brown Administration is deliberately tying together the policies that Restore the Delta and the broader environmental community support for regional water self- sufficiency to the construction of the peripheral tunnels in order to greenwash the water grab.”
“As economist Dr. Jeffrey Michael from the University of the Pacific has noted, if we move toward a sustainable water policy through the creation of regional projects, the economic benefit for constructing the tunnels disappears,” she said. “The Resources Agency gave the Kern County Water Agency and the Westlands Water District cover this morning by overstating the economic importance of agriculture to the State (Westlands and Kern contribute less than .3% to the State’s GDP). Governor Brown is more than willing to craft the State’s water plan in such a way as to accommodate the unreasonable desires of these water takers who want to transform their agencies into water brokers.”
“While we welcome a State effort to make conservation a way of life, to improve regional water self-reliance, to improve flood protection, and to provide drinking water for all communities, Water Bond campaign expert Joe Caves’ recent polling shows the proposed water bond would fail due to lack of support for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan,” Barrigan-Parrilla said.
Caves told attendees at a dinner of the Southern California Water Committee (SCWC) on October 24 that the bond that is currently on the 2014 ballot would lose “pretty dramatically.” (http://mavensnotebook.com/2013/10/30/policy-politics-public-opinion-what-does-it-take-to-craft-and-pass-a-successful-water-bond/#more-8819)
Barrigan-Parrilla noted that the Governor’s delegates from the Office of Planning and Research are beginning to hold conversations with water leaders throughout the State, except that Delta water experts will not be included in the conversations.
“As indicated in a recently crafted document by the Kern County Water Agency, water contractors are seeking answers as to whether they will be able to transfer BDCP water out of their agency, and how much of the project will be subsidized by the State and Federal Governments. This points out that those behind the BDCP intend to resell water from this project while relying on taxpayer subsidies for delivery of that water,” she concluded.
Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), responded to the plan’s release by stating, “The state should focus on conservation, recycling and developing local water sources and should abandon the plan to build the tunnels. The tunnels will be a stranded resource without water to put in them. There is five times the water promised to water users for every drop that is available. There is no new water for the tunnels.”
Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher firstname.lastname@example.org.