.Is Jerry Brown Breaking His Prop 1 Campaign Promise?

During the fall election, Governor Jerry Brown and advocates of Proposition 1, the state water bond, constantly claimed that the measure was “tunnels neutral.” In numerous photo opps, Brown and Prop 1 backers promised the people of California that water bond funds would not be used for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), a proposal that would create two massive underground tunnels underneath the delta. 

But the conservation group Restore the Delta is now charging that the governor is breaking his promise after Richard Stapler, the spokesman for the BDCP, admitted to Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle that the Brown administration could use money from Proposition 1 to pay for “habitat mitigation” linked to the construction and operation of the tunnels.

Restore the Delta Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said, “It is outrageous that the governor would break the promise he made to the people of California that their taxes would not be used to mitigate damage from the tunnels. Now he is signaling that bond monies will support mega-growers like Stewart Resnick, who plans to expand almond production by 50 percent over the next five years.”

[jump] “It’s time for Governor Brown to drop the 19th century tunnels plan, and embrace water technologies that will serve the world we live in now, and our children will live in in the future,” she said.

According to the Chronicle, Stapler “acknowledged that the money [for delta habitat restoration] could conceivably come from Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond that California passed last year.”

Earlier this week, a coalition of environmentalists blasted Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick and other corporate agribusiness interests for continuing to plant thousands of acres of new almond trees during the drought while Governor Jerry Brown is mandating that urban families slash water usage by 25 percent.

Barrigan-Parrilla said Resnick, the owner of Paramount Farms in Kern County, uses as much water for his almonds as the amount of water 38 million Californians are now required to conserve.

Prop 1 sailed to easy victory on November 4, 2014. The election results showed how the power of millions of dollars of corporate money were able to defeat a grassroots movement of fishermen, environmentalists, Indian tribes, and family farmers opposed to Prop. 1.

The Hoopa Valley, Yurok, Winnemem Wintu and Concow Maidu Tribes, the defenders of California’s rivers and oceans for thousands of years, strongly opposed Prop 1. because of the threat the bond poses to rivers, salmon, and their culture.

Caleen Sisk, chief and spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, said the water bond, the tunnels, the proposed raising of Shasta Dam, and other water projects now being planned by the state and federal governments are in reality “one Big Project” that will destroy salmon, rivers, and groundwater supplies.

“You have to look at the whole picture and everything in between from Shasta Dam to the Delta estuary. We need to ask what is affected by our actions and who is benefitting from them,” Sisk said. “These are not separate projects; they are all the same thing that the state is asking us to fund – California water being manipulated for the enrichment of some and the devastation of cultures, environments, and species all in the name of higher profits.”

Prop 1 proponents, which include oil companies, corporate agribusiness tycoons, Big Tobacco, health insurance companies, and billionaires, dumped more $16.4 million into the campaign, while Prop 1 opponents raised around $100,000 for the effort. Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire “farmer” who has made millions off of reselling environmental water to the public, donated $150,000 to the Yes on Prop 1 campaign

During the press conference earlier this week, Restore the Delta and other opponents of Governor Brown’s tunnels plan reported that Brown’s abandonment of habitat restoration in his BDCP tunnels project “violates the statutory ‘co-equal goals,’ does an end-runs the EPA and other federal scientists who refused to issue permits for the project, and makes the tunnels project a simple water grab for industrial mega-growers.”

“You cannot have successful habitat or restore fisheries while draining the delta of its water,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “The governor has now abandoned that as a co-equal goal of building the tunnels [and restoring the delta]. BDCP is now a naked ‘tunnels-only’ water grab for the unsustainable mega-farms in Westlands and Kern.”

Chelsea Tu, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, slammed this new plan as “a giant step backward.”

“If it goes through, this massive project’s boosters will be able to build these tunnels without having to do anything to protect our wildlife and waters — and will neatly sidestep input from the public. This backdoor process will waste more taxpayer money and kill more Delta species like endangered salmon and smelt,” said Tu.

She said the new plan would be subject to review only under Section 7 of the federal Endangered Species Act, a “bare minimum” approach that could only require federal wildlife agencies to determine whether it will harm 21 fish and wildlife species, such as Delta smelt and winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, that are listed or proposed to be listed under the Act.

Under the previous approach, the BDCP would have protected 57 imperiled fish and wildlife species, including longfin smelt, fall Chinook salmon, and the greater sandhill crane. A Section 7 consultation would only take place among federal agencies and would likely not contain mandatory mitigation requirements or a public participation process, according to Tu.

“As drought becomes the new normal, California cannot afford to continue to lose delta species that are already on the brink of extinction,” added Tu. “Instead of spending $25 billion to take more water from the delta to fuel speculative sprawl and export agribusinesses, California should invest money in proven water conservation, efficiency, reuse, and recycling strategies for both cities and farms.”

Conner Everts, executive director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance, concluded that the failure of the BDCP to meet our water challenges or conservation goals means we must abandon the tunnels and “invest in conservation opportunities.”

“Local water solutions are the most cost effective and responsive solution to our water challenges, and that is where we should invest, instead of in tunnels that produce no new water,” said Everts. “Despite passing a large water bond, there is little available funding specifically targeted for conservation: just $250 million out of $7.545 billion from bond measures and $1.1 billion from the Legislature. Conservation funds will have to be allocated locally, and through state and federal resources.”

He emphasized that “funding should not be diverted for tunnels. There is not money for local infrastructure, and it is well known that trunk and main water lines must be repaired. We are losing 10 percent of our treated drinking water to leaking pipes. We can’t afford to sink billions into tunnels. Instead, we must invest in conservation, repairing our infrastructure, and becoming drought-proof.”

The tunnels opponents also released new information from Public Records Act requests showing that the State of California is “circumventing the contracting rules” for state projects and violating the statute enacted so the water takers themselves control design, construction, and financing of the tunnels.

“Huge water-takers are manipulating the process with the cooperation of the Brown administration so they can grab front row seats to deliver that water to themselves,” added Barrigan-Parrilla. “Prior to even having draft environmental documents for the public to review, the Californian Department of Water Resources (DWR) is poised to sign a ‘secret’ contract enabling a small, select group of water-takers unprecedented control and access out of the public eye, and circumventing state contracting and competitive bidding processes designed to protect ratepayers and taxpayers.”

Documentation that the process is rigged and unjustly manipulated by state officials and water contractors was revealed last year when I exposed a memorandum sent to Department of Water Resources (DWR) staff from DWR Director Mark Cowin indicating that the Brown administration was stepping up its efforts to fast-track the BDCP to build the peripheral tunnels. 

In the memo, Cowin said two new organizations would be established within the agency to implement the BDCP — a DWR BDCP Office and the Delta Conveyance Facilities Design and Construction Enterprise — beginning June 1, 2014.

In the latest development in this process, the State Water Project contractors are trying to circumvent contracting and competitive bidding procedures to control who is in charge, while using DWR’s imprint of a public project. This secret planning process sets up moving forward with a project that has not been approved or permitted by circumventing codes and laws regarding contracting, according to Restore the Delta.

“This complex process is designed to take decision-making away from DWR scientists who oppose the project, and the Legislature, and give it to a select group of special interests that want to operate a public water project for their benefit,” Barrigan-Parrilla concluded.


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