Additional river flows necessary to make Delta tunnels pencil out economically and environmentally

Stockton – Today, Restore the Delta’s executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla released the following statement in response to Governor Jerry Brown’s September 19, 2016 letter to Chair Felicia Marcus of the State Water Resources Control Board regarding the need for comprehensive agreements on environmental flows for both the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. To read the Governor’s letter, click here.

“While Restore the Delta has pushed for a comprehensive update to the Delta water quality plan for the both the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers before moving forward with any further processes for permitting the Delta Tunnels, Governor Brown’s request to the State Water Resources Control Board to now fast track flow agreements is disingenuous at best. The water needed to fill the tunnels will have to come from the watersheds of both rivers upstream of the Delta. Without additional water from these river systems, the tunnels do not pencil out economically, requiring the multi-billion dollar Federal and State tax subsidies reported on recently.

“Moreover, the tens of thousands of pages of testimony that have been turned in to the State Water Resources Control Board for the first part of the hearings on permitting the Delta tunnels, even before later hearings on fisheries and wildlife begin, elucidate the breadth of environmental damage the project will inflict on the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary – from construction impacts to drinking water quality degradation for the City of Stockton.

“The governor’s letter to Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Board, continues a long and problematic tradition of governors interfering with State Water Board deliberations and decisions. Pete Wilson rejected a draft water rights decision in 1993 after water contractors complained about its effects on them. A voluntary agreement to promote salmon friendly flows on the San Joaquin River for 12 years failed to protect salmon.

“On the surface, Governor Brown seems to be gaining an understanding that Delta flow and water quality objectives should be considered as a unitary whole, unlike what the Board has proposed. On this narrow point, Restore the Delta actually agrees with the governor. But our agreement ends there.

“Yet, the governor’s motivations to accelerate agreements go beyond his stated wish to urgently “improve our aquatic ecosystems” and are truly a mechanism to benefit his treasured tunnels project, the beleaguered California WaterFix. Chair Marcus and Boardmember Tam Doduc have stated their willingness to consider voluntary agreements for appropriate flow objectives in the Tunnels proceeding now under way—but only after all the evidence submitted by all parties to the proceeding is in and has been vetted. The outcome of this process is of grave concern for the water contractors, the Department of Water Resources, and Governor Brown on their behalf.

Clearly, Governor Brown hopes to short-circuit the water board’s vetting process with this letter as have California’s governors before him. It is a Hail Mary pass on behalf of the water contractors in which “voluntary agreements” become a water grab from all the rivers of the Central Valley. It is a shame that Governor Brown does not recognize the true environmental and economic value of a healthy San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, and only the value of water exported for profit.”