I cheered and chanted for Governor Jerry Brown when he called out US Senator Ted Cruz for his “ignorance” about climate change. As executive director of Restore the Delta, a grassroots organization of 20,000 Californians seeking to stop the Brown Administration’s $25 billion plan to build two giant water tunnels, I was heartened to hear the governor addressing climate change. Why? Because climate change must be dealt with to save the place I love — the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. If only the governor would listen to his own words.
Our organization has been fiercely battling the governor and his desire to move forward with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) twin tunnels, each one wide enough to accommodate a Cessna airplane. Fighting with a well-liked governor with whom we agree on many issues has not been easy. While our board of directors and membership base is politically left, right, and center, my team members and I are unabashed environmental progressives. Our staffers are registered Democrats and Greens, challenging a much-loved Democrat. Many of our members, meanwhile, are conservative Republicans and libertarians. United by our common opposition to the twin tunnels, both staffers and members muffle our personal views daily to keep our coalition united. We like to say that we can’t wait to defeat the tunnels so we can go back to fighting each other on other issues.
We work for Restore the Delta because we are passionate about our Delta communities, our farms, local veggies, fruit, Delta wine, boat rides, and having Sacramento River salmon on our tables. Nothing pleases us more than watching Greater Sandhill Cranes feeding in the fields at sunset on beautiful autumn evenings. We have respect and affection for our Delta farmers, fishermen, and business leaders. We want our immediate neighbors — Delta urban residents — who are some of the most economically disadvantaged people in California, to be reconnected to their cultural and environmental heritage, which will only happen with a healed estuary.
Like Governor Brown, we care passionately about the future of California. As long as our estuary has enough water to remain healthy, we agree with sharing a sustainable yield of water, as determined by sound science.
The governor is right that California’s droughts will be exacerbated by climate change. This is why he must rethink a project that will fail the people of California in a changing climate. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR/EIS) for the project indicates that Governor Brown’s tunnels will be dry 52 percent of the time under current climate conditions. This same document makes it clear that fisheries will do worse with the operation of the tunnels than they will with the existing antiquated pumps in Tracy. In addition, the water that will be made available in wet periods will not increase water supplies for property taxpayers within the Metropolitan Water or Santa Clara Valley Water districts, even though they will carry a large portion of the financial burden of the $60 billion project (including interest and operations).
The tunnels will exacerbate the failed thirty-year California policy of exporting two-thirds of the available Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta watershed flows to the big agribusiness growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. These growers hide behind their industrious and underpaid farmworkers at public events during times of drought to demand water allotments to which, under the terms of their contracts and California law, they are not entitled in dry periods.
We are close to losing the delta smelt for good. The near-extinction of the smelt, once the most abundant species in the delta, is a blaring alarm about the health of the estuary. Other native species are also in perilous decline. We’ve lost nearly 99 percent of our winter-run salmon. If the delta’s fisheries collapse, great distress will be inflicted on San Francisco Bay and its tourist economy. Governor Brown cannot continue to allow the over-pumping of the bay-delta estuary, whether ground is broken for the tunnels or not. To do so is to ignore our changing climate, and put the entire Bay Area at risk.
Sustainable water management practices must be put into place now if California is going to have a future. We need fully funded stormwater capture programs, restored groundwater basins, and cisterns to collect water for landscape irrigation. We need new technology for the rapid tracking and repair of water main breaks.
We call on Governor Brown to deal with the five-fold over-subscription of water exported from the bay-delta watershed; to drop the tunnels; and to use his clout to create a megafund for water conservation, groundwater, recycling, and new technologies, for improved export pumps at Tracy, and for levee protections for the Delta’s 4 million residents and the state’s water supply.
If he can do that, along with creating meaningful climate change initiatives, our left-center-right coalition will hail him as an environmental hero for California.