Helene Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribe; Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe; and Kayla Carpenter, Hoopa Valley Tribe, protesting against the peripheral tunnels in Sacramento. Photo by Ricardo Torres.
by Dan Bacher
Over 300 people, including fishermen, environmentalists, family farmers, and a large contingent of members of the Winnemem Wintu, Pit River, Hoopa Valley and Miwok Tribes, protested Wednesday’s announcement by Governor Jerry Brown and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to fast track the plan to build the peripheral tunnels around the California Delta.
During a press conference at the California Natural Resources Agency Building in Sacramento, Brown announced his plan for the construction of two peripheral tunnels with a capacity of 9,000 cfs that would take water from three intakes on the Sacramento River near Courtland and Hood to deliver water to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and southern California water agencies.
Brown shocked the Capitol press corp when he stated, “I want to get s–t done,” in defensively responding to press questions. He indicated he would study reports including the groundbreaking economic cost-benefit analysis of the peripheral tunnels plan by Dr. Jeffrey Michaels of the University of the Pacific in Stockton that stated that the cost of the project would outweigh the benefits 2.5 times, but in the end, needed to take action.
“Analysis paralysis is not why I came back 30 years later to handle some of the same issues,” Brown said. “At this stage, as I see many of my friends dying – I went to the funeral of my best friend a couple of weeks ago – I want to get s–t done.”
Brown claimed the project would further both ecosystem restoration and water supply.
“A healthy ecosystem and reliable water supply are profoundly important to California’s future,” said Governor Brown. “This proposal balances the concerns of those who live and work in the Delta, those who rely on it for water and those who appreciate its beauty, fish, waterfowl and wildlife.”
Tunnel opponents strongly disagreed with Brown’s contention that the project “balances the concerns” of ecosystem restoration and water supply, citing the “fatal flaws” of the twin tunnels they said would damage water, the environment, fish, and farming and impose billions of dollars of increases on water ratepayers.
Restore the Delta, local, state and federal elected officials, the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, the Planning and Conservation League, the Environmental Water Caucus, Friends of the River, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Golden Gate Salmon Association and other groups responded to the Governor’s announcement by launching their campaign against the “peripheral tunnels” with a 12:30 p.m. rally at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
“Today’s announcement is a disappointment,” said Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis). “For the past six years, the BDCP has stumbled badly – it is unaffordable, unworkable and scientifically unjustified. Today, instead of seizing the opportunity to recognize the flaws and set a new course, the Governor and the Interior Secretary have once again put plumbing before policy and asked us to trust them.”
“This plan justifies tremendous risks to the people, economy, and ecosystem of this extraordinary estuary in order to appease the excessive demands of a select group of politically powerful water interests,” Wolk said. “It will also use billions in higher water rates and taxpayer borrowing to build the largest, most expensive state-sponsored water project in half a century, even before we know if it can be used. We are supposed to trust that a project with no legislative oversight, no public accountability and no budget control will be built without waste, tax increases, costly overruns and errors. California can’t afford that multi-billion dollar gamble.”
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said, “We oppose the rush to build a project that would exterminate salmon runs, destroy sustainable family farms and saddle taxpayers with tens of billions in debt, mainly to benefit a small number of huge corporate agribusinesses on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. This proposal is fatally-flawed.”
Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, who wore her traditional white ceremonial dress and tribal regalia, noted that she and other tribal members went to hear Governor Brown and Secretary Ken Salazar speak about the proposal to ship the Delta waters south down the twin tunnels at the news conference, “but they said we had to be invited.”
“I asked why I wasn’t invited?” she stated. “After all we are a part of the Department of Interior.”
Sisk emphasized that the Tribes are covered under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which declares that the indigenous people must give their “free, prior, and informed Consent” for the use of the waters downstream from their historic homelands.
“We have not given our “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent” for the California Governor to divert water destined to the estuary or US Government to build the Shasta Dam higher,” said Sisk. “These are ‘rights protected’ under the ‘UN DRIP’ that President Obama signed. I don’t know a single tribe that has given their ‘Free, Prior, and Informed Consent!’ Stop the California Water plans to destroy all the salmon, fish, and ground water systems!”
“The common people will pay for the tunnels and a few people will make millions. It will turn a once pristine Delta waterway into a sewer pipe. It will be bad for the fish, the ocean and the people of California,” said Sisk.
Tunnel opponents slammed the failure to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal, emphasizing that the costs would fall on water ratepayers, particularly those in southern California.
Kristin Lynch, Pacific Region Director for Food & Water Watch, said, “This project would cost billions upon billions of dollars to give ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidized water to corporate agriculture and real estate developers to make millions upon millions in profits. It is the ultimate fleecing of ratepayers and taxpayers.”
She explained, “The special interests argue this is the only way to secure reliable water for southern California. This is false. California will not go dry without these tunnels. This is a fallacy that those moneyed special interests use to try and create an artificial rift between the north and south.”
“There are no guarantees that southern California residents will receive more water. As an indication to the contrary- LA Dept. of Water and Power is already projecting increased rates for decreased water consumption. How much will rates need to increase if this project moves forward?” Lynch concluded.
Jim Metropulos, senior advocate for Sierra Club California, said the the public needs to know upfront what the impacts of the project are and how they are going to mitigate these impacts or to actually improve conditions for fish.
“The plan states that some species, like the winter Chinook salmon, would be harmed by the construction of the tunnels. Their own studies show there could be species decline and extinction, and the project could make things worse than not doing anything at all,” Metropulos stated.
Jonas Minton, water policy adviser for the Planning and Conservation League, slammed the the proposal for taking a “Build it now, figure it out later approach.”
“But after they spend billions building new tunnels, the pressure would be overwhelming to maximize water exports no matter the consequences on the fish,” he stated.
Zeke Grader, representing the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Golden Gate Salmon Association, emphasized the impact the canal would have on the recreational and commercial salmon fishing industries – and criticized Governor Brown for his “tunnel vision.”
“History clearly shows those who covet salmon water in California will take as much of it as they can get away with. They’ve done it time and again. They’ve been reined in a bit since pumping restrictions designed to keep salmon and other fish from going extinct went into effect starting in late 2008.”
“The agribusinesses have been in court ever since trying to get these pumping restrictions thrown out. Thankfully, no court has yet granted their wish but they clearly would crank the pumps as high as they’d go if allowed. This is what they did between the year 2000 and 2006 when they set all time high pumping records,” Grader said.
Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and longtime Delta advocate, delivered one of the most fiery speeches at the rally.
“Fisheries that God created and nurtured over millennia are being destroyed by greed in mere decades,” said Jennings. “The public trust is on the scaffold and water speculators have seized the throne. California is in a water crisis because the state has over promised, over-allocated, wasted and inequitably distributed scarce water resources. The Delta is in a biological meltdown because the estuary has been deprived of more than half of its historical flow; its hydrograph has been turned on its head and its waterways used as a sewers.”
“But the architects of greed are insatiable: they want more. And so they proposed BDCP: a $50 billion scheme to divert the Sacramento River around the estuary to irrigate the parched impaired soils of the South Valley. The collective scientific community scathingly characterized their Effects Analysis as junk science; and said that it would hasten extinction rather than restoring species. You can’t restore an estuary hemorrhaging from pollution and lack of flow by stealing more fresh water from it. That’s a death sentence for the Delta,” he continued.
“In desperation, the Governor and Secretary went down the rabbit hole and came forth with a Mad Hatter scheme of building it now and figuring out how to operate it later,” Jennings quipped.
Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) criticized the Bay Delta Conservation Plan proposal for the damage it would cause to the Delta, jobs and water rights.
“Today I flew back to California to make it clear to state and federal lawmakers where I stand: the 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) conveyance facility being proposed could wreak havoc on the Delta and the jobs it sustains and put existing water rights in the Delta and Northern California at risk,” said Garamendi. “It is possible for California to solve its water problems, but the Delta and Northern California counties must be at the table, and it will take a comprehensive, multifaceted approach, not just a piece of plumbing in the Delta.”
“We must address the needs of all Californians by prioritizing storage, conservation, recycling, levee improvements, and habitat restoration. A BDCP without these elements is incomplete at best,” he said.
In spite of a series of requests by Garamendi and other Northern California Representatives to delay the controversial tunnel plan, Governor Brown and Secretary Salazar announced Wednesday that “the parties” expect to issue a draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan and corresponding Environmental Impact Report//Environmental Impact Statement for public review “this fall.”
Other speakers at Wednesday’s rally include Assemblyman Bill Berryhill; Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston, Löben Sels, Chairman, Five Delta Counties Farm Bureau Caucus; Nick di Croce, Environmental Water Caucus; John Herrick, South Delta Water Agency; and Mark Wilson, Mark Wilson Vineyards.
For more information about Restore the Delta, go to: http://www.restorethedelta.org.