Delta Stewardship Council Adopts Plan Despite Massive Opposition
By Dan Bacher
In spite of overwhelming opposition from environmentalists, fishermen, family farmers, elected officials and the majority of Californians, the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) on Thursday, May 16 unanimously adopted what it described as a "comprehensive management plan" for the Delta.
The Council also certified the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), despite opposition to the report from every single person who spoke during the public comment period, ranging from Delta farmers to a representative of the Metropolitan Water District. In addition, the Council adopted regulations that will implement the policies of the Delta Plan.
"State law told us to develop a legally enforceable Delta Plan that will guide state and local agency actions on water use and the Delta environment," said Delta Stewardship Council Chair Phil Isenberg, who previously served as Chair of the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" on the Central Coast, as well as Chair of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, which recommended the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnels.
Wendy Stokes, Chair of Restore the Delta, speaks at the protest at the Delta Stewardship Council meeting in West Sacramento on May 16. Photo credit: Dan Bacher"We will now be able to focus on implementing the policies and recommendations that will help achieve the State's coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem while protecting the unique values of the Delta as an evolving place," Isenberg claimed.
A press release from the DSC revealed how the Delta Plan is intimately tied to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels.
"The Delta Plan is California's plan for the Delta and is intended to be a single enforceable blueprint that requires and encourages sustainable actions now, and lays a strong foundation for future projects and programs that will improve statewide water supply reliability, provide a vibrant and healthy ecosystem, and preserve, protect and enhance the rural, agricultural and recreational characteristics of the Delta. The Plan will eventually include the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) when the BDCP is completed and successfully permitted," the release stated.
Delta advocates, who held a protest featuring the "Death of the Delta" coffin at the Radisson Hotel in West Sacramento before the meeting, disagreed strongly with Isenberg's contention that the plan would protect, restore and enhancing the Delta ecosystem "while protecting the unique values of the Delta as an evolving place." They said the flawed plan would "drain the Delta and doom salmon and other Pacific fisheries."
Delta Plan Perpetuates Unsustainable Status Quo
Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, began his presentation at both the rally and in the public comment period at the meeting by stating, "Good morning, welcome to the resumption of California's water wars."
"The Delta Plan fails to comply with the law, and perpetuates an unsustainable status quo that enriches a few powerful water brokers at the expense of reliable water supplies and healthy fisheries," said Jennings. "It is a classic shell game to benefit special interests and, if implemented, would represent a death sentence for one of the world's great estuaries."
"The Council has squandered a marvelous and unique opportunity," emphasized Jennings. "Because the Council failed to identify and analyze the root causes of California's water crisis - over-appropriation, unreasonable use, failure to balance the public trust - the Delta Plan and EIR largely recommends that agencies should continue to do the same things that created the crisis in the first place. The Plan and EIR ignore history and are predicated on an artificial reality. They're little more than omelets of half-truth and distortion to justify predetermined conclusions."
Referring to the failed Cal-Fed process designed to meet the "co-equal goals" of water supply and ecosystem restoration, Jennings said, "Instead of vision, we have a warmed over CalFed Lite!"
"Instead of perpetuating the destructive water export policies, the Delta Plan should be focused on developing regional water solutions that reduce reliance on the Delta," said Wendy Stokes, a Delta farmer and chair of Restore the Delta. "The Delta Stewardship Council has abandoned the path of sustainable water policies to help endorse the Peripheral Tunnels. Agriculture will not be able to afford this expensive water. The majority of the $60 billion cost will be paid by the families of Southern California through their higher water bills."
Water "Reliability" - Code For More Water
"The stated purpose of the Delta Plan is to provide water 'reliability' for Southern California users. 'Reliability,' in this case, is code for more water," said Nick Di Croce, co-facilitator of the California Environmental Water Caucus, and board member of the California Water Impact Network. "The delta cannot be saved, and its ecological crisis cannot be addressed, by taking out more water. The real crisis for the delta is that state and federal agencies have committed to deliver five times more water than is available; these unrealistic commitments need to be revised."
Stockton City Councilmember Kathy Miller, representing the Delta Coalition, blasted the Delta Stewardship Council and the Brown Administration for failing to conduct an analysis to determine how much water is available for export.
"Until this water availability analysis is done, there is no way to know how much water is available for export," she said. "The Delta Plan nevertheless endorses building huge Peripheral Tunnels. This places the cart before the horse."
She also criticized the Council for not addressing the dire economic impacts of the tunnels on the city of Stockton, a community where the population of people living in poverty has risen 56 percent in the past decade. "We need an open hand, not a closed fist," she said. "We need policies that enhance jobs creation and capital investment."
The Delta Plan's True Purpose: Get Around Biological Opinions
The tunnel opponents said the true purpose of the Delta Plan is to get around the court "biological opinions" that restrict water exports in order to protect Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales (orcas), which forage on Sacramento River Chinook salmon, from extinction.
"The courts have found that water exporters have threatened the very survival of several fish species. Now, instead of reducing water exports, the Delta Plan endorses simply moving the point of export to a different spot in the Delta," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta.
Independent scientists have found that the removal of more Delta flows through the Peripheral Tunnels would hasten the extinction of Sacramento River winter Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species. "Yet, that is what the Delta Plan endorses," said Jennings.
Jennings concluded, "We have urged the Council to analyze and incorporate the findings of the legislatively mandated flow reports by the Water Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Delta Protection Commission's Economic Sustainability Plan. Following an extensive proceeding involving agencies, academia and non-governmental organizations, the Water Board concluded that a substantial increase in Delta outflow and a return to a more natural hydrograph were necessary to protect public trust resources. The Delta Plan EIR didn't even consider that report as a major source of information."
Dick Pool, Secretary of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, criticized the failure of the plan to address the recovery needs of Central Valley salmon.
"The salmon cannot be restored with only habitat changes in the Delta," said Pool. "There is a large body of science including the state and federal agencies that recognize that only a combination of both upriver habitat and Delta actions can restore the salmon populations. Delta operations, specifically the pumps in the South Delta, with their strong impact on upstream water movements and reservoir operations, severely impact the survival of juvenile salmon above the Delta. The Delta Plan fails to address these issues."
Salad Bowl Science
Nicky Suard, owner of Snug Harbor Resorts in Walnut Grove on the Delta, summed up the lack of credible science in the Delta Plan and the EIR when she described it as "Salad Bowl Science," where the plan officials "pick and choose" the science to justify their pre-determined goals.
"Don't pass this plan," Suard urged the Council. "It will destroy the Delta and everything in it."
In her written comments to the Council, Carolee Krieger, President of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), shredded the Final Delta Plan.
"We find the Final Delta Plan utterly deficient," said Krieger. "It is nothing more than a continuation of the policy that has destroyed the largest estuary on the west coast of the continental United States and instigated the state's water wars. As such, it is not a solution to our water crisis, but a disastrous adherence to the status quo."
"It speaks to special interests, not the public interest," she stated. "It has been an unconscionable waste of taxpayer money, in that it sedulously avoids any course of action that would lead to the pragmatic and equitable distribution of our water while simultaneously protecting the Delta."
The pleas of Suard, Krieger and everybody who spoke against the plan and EIR's adoption fell on deaf ears.
As was the case in the parallel Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan "collaborative" processes, the goal was to present a façade of an open and transparent process where the "input" of the "stakeholders" was considered when the outcome of the process, the privatization of the public trust, was predetermined by state officials and corporate interests.
Council Refused To Conduct Necessary Analyses
Restore the Delta, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Environmental Water Caucus and the Delta Coalition said they had implored the Council to undertake a series of necessary analyses because the responsible agencies have refused to conduct them. These include:
- A water availability analysis essential for addressing over appropriation and separating real water from paper water and the legal rights to it.
- A benefit/cost analysis indispensable for maximizing the use of limited resources for the greatest good for all Californians.
- A public trust analysis crucial for ensuring that the common property rights of all Californian's are protected and balanced against those of special interests.
- A beneficial use assessment addressing the extent that consumptive water is wasted and unreasonably used.
For more information about the campaign to stop the peripheral tunnels, go to restorethedelta.org
Dan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer, described as "The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen."