Restore the Delta asks agribusiness Astroturf group: ‘Who’s funding you?’

Photo of Stewart Resnick, Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoon, courtesy of Aspen Ideas Festival.


by Dan Bacher

Restore the Delta (RTD) on October 17 responded to an attack by the “Coalition for a Sustainable Delta,” an agribusiness “Astroturf” group they said is bankrolled by billionaire Stewart Resnick, the owner of the giant Paramount Farms in Kern County.

RTD, a coalition of farmers, fishermen, environmentalists and business owners dedicated to a fair water policy in California, dismissed “Coalition” claims accusing Restore the Delta of being a front group for Delta developers out to pave over the Delta for profits.

“Our books are open; Who’s funding you?” RTD challenged the “Coalition for a Sustainable Delta.”

The “Coalition” made the claims in its October “Delta Watch newsletter, in an article entitled, “‘Restore the Delta’ donors look to profit from status quo.” (

The newsletter states, “Those that oppose California’s efforts to protect the Delta ecosystem and improve the reliability of the state’s water supply through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) have organized into a group calling themselves ‘Restore the Delta,’ whose name implies a desire to fix the ailing estuary. A Sacramento Bee article profiled the group and, in doing so, may have shed some much needed light on the real purpose of this advocacy group.”

“They may be waving the flag of environmental stewardship, but there are big green dollar signs hiding behind that façade. Successful restoration of the Delta through protection of habitat conflicts with the financial interests of the group’s richest donors, who also happen to be at the top of the list of people who would pave the Delta over for profits,” the Coalition stated.

Billionaire’s group blasts RTD for receiving contributions from Delta businesses 

In reply, Restore the Delta’s Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said, “It’s really ironic that a coalition being bankrolled by Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick is criticizing us for accepting contributions from people with business interests in the Delta region. We do accept support from all those who want to restore the Delta. We have been transparent about doing so. This includes business owners, including developers, along with contributions from thousands of others who care about the health of the Delta region.”

The Coalition, a proponent of unsustainable water exports that have led to the death of record millions of Sacramento splittail, chinook salmon, striped bass, steelhead and other species in the state and federal Delta pumping facilities in recent years, criticizes RTD for accepting financial support from “local real estate moguls Alex Spanos and Fritz Grupe, and landowner Dino Cortopassi.”

“While the group maintains an image of being a representative of Delta family farmers and ordinary citizens, a large chunk of funding for its activities (including a recent film featuring narration by Ed Begley Jr.) is financed by local real estate moguls Alex Spanos and Fritz Grupe, and landowner Dino Cortopassi,” the newsletter claimed.

Barrigan-Parrilla responded, “in the entire six years Restore the Delta has been in existence, the organization has received less than 10% percent of its total funding from these donors. The rest has come from members, including farmers, fishermen, small business people, and all those concerned about the region’s environment, as well as from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.

“RTD has produced a documentary film, put on pig roasts, Delta food & wine events, and engaged in the hard work of raising funds from the community the way almost all nonprofits must do. I’m not aware of any such events put on by our critics. Where do they get their funding without having to raise it from the community?” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

“Our books are open,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “We’d be interested in knowing exactly who is funding the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta.”

Coalition only interested in exporting Delta water 

Restore the Delta Policy Analyst Jane Wagner-Tyack, said, “The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta is interested only in sustaining high levels of water exports used to grow permanent crops on arid land or to support housing and commercial development in what is essentially desert. Resnick’s Paramount Farms controls the Kern Water Bank where a lot of Delta water ends up. These people don’t care what happens to the Delta as long as they can keep getting as much water as they want.”

RTD said the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels touted by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta calls for “habitat restoration” in the Delta, but has so far been unable to explain how threatened species can be protected if less fresh water is flowing through the Delta, according to RTD.

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, stated, “The group criticizing RTD is one that focuses on factors such as urban runoff and striped bass predation as the causes of habitat decline in the Delta, ignoring the impact of excessive water diversions and of fish kills at the export pumps. Delta water quality is important to us all, but we can’t improve water quality by reducing flows of fresh water through the Delta and the estuary.”

Under political pressure from agribusiness, record water exports took place in the Delta under the Schwarzenegger and Brown administrations. Brown presided over record water exports out of the Delta pumps in 2011, surpassing even the Schwarzenegger administration in diverting massive quantities of Delta water to corporate agribusiness. The massive diversions resulted in the “salvage” of over 11 million fish, including a record 9 million native Sacramento splittail. (

Restore the Delta said it promotes a plan that “would strengthen existing Delta levees to benefit both Delta communities and export reliability while continuing to route fresh water through the Delta for users in other parts of the state.”

The organization advocates a return to a system in which only surplus water is available for export, as required by law. “This goal is achievable with increased reliance on local water supplies, water conservation, and retirement of toxic land in the San Joaquin Valley that is not suitable for farming,” RTD stated.

The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta hasn’t yet responded to my request for the sources of their funding. I will publish their response if and when I receive it.

For information about Restore the Delta, go to or contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546 steve [at]; Twitter: @shopcraft; Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053, barbara [at]; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta

Resnick reaps big profits at public’s expense

Stewart Resnick, the man behind the Coalition, is notorious for buying subsidized Delta water and then selling it back to the public for a tidy profit, as revealed in an article by Mike Taugher in the Contra Costa Times on May 23, 2009. (

“As the West Coast’s largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found,” said Taugher.

Taugher said the “environmental water account” set up in 2000 to “improve” the Delta ecosystem spent nearly $200 million mostly to benefit water users while also creating a “cash stream for private landowners and water agencies in the Bakersfield area.”

“No one appears to have benefitted more than companies owned or controlled by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire, philanthropist and major political donor whose companies, including Paramount Farms, own more than 115,000 acres in Kern County,” Taugher stated. “Resnick’s water and farm companies collected about 20 cents of every dollar spent by the program.”

In the same piece, Taugher exposed the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta’s role as an Astroturf group for Resnick’s Paramount Farms.

“The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta’s phone number is the same as Paramount Farms, and of the four coalition officers listed on tax documents, three are Resnick employees: William Phillimore, chief financial officer and executive vice president for Westside Mutual and Paramount Farming; Scott Hamilton, resource planning manager for Paramount Farming; and Craig B. Cooper, chief legal officer for Roll International, Resnick’s holding company,” noted Taugher.

For more information on Stewart Resnick, go to:

Background on peripheral tunnels: 

The attack on Restore the Delta by a corporate agribusiness Astroturf group takes place as the state and federal governments are fast-tracking the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels to export more northern California water to corporate agribusiness interests and Southern California water agencies.

On July 25, Governor Jerry Brown and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar held a press conference in Sacramento announcing their decision to move ahead with the construction of the peripheral tunnels, a decision protested by fishermen, environmentalists, members of the Winnemem Wintu, Pit River, Hoopa Valley and other Tribes, family farmers and elected officials in a rally at the State Capitol after the press conference.

Brown announced that the EIR/EIS for the peripheral tunnel/canal plan would be released “this fall,” probably September. However, the tentative release date was rescheduled to October and now is looking like it will be on December 20, just in time for the holidays.The peripheral canal/tunnel will hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish species, according to federal, state and independent scientists.


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