Opponents of governor’s tunnels now oppose governor’s water bond

Article from Central Valley Business Times.


by Gene Beley, Delta Correspondent
September 18, 2014 9:00pm

The environmental group Restore the Delta has been the sparkplug behind the “Save the Delta, Stop the Tunnels” grass roots movement against the governor’s proposal to siphon fresh water from the Sacramento River via what would be two of the largest water tunnels ever built.

Now Restore the Delta’s executive director, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, is branching out, heading a new group that opposes the governor’s water bond on the November ballot.

She says the new organization, Citizens Against the BDCP Tunnels and Californians for Water Sustainability, had to be formed because Restore the Delta is not legally able to tell people how to vote.

The steering committee has leaders from the South and Central Water agencies, along with Osha Meserve, an environmental and land use attorney. Another leader is Mike Machado, of Linden, a veteran Democratic state politician now retired, who holds a degree from Stanford University in agricultural economics and another agriculture degree from the University of California, Davis, and attended the Harvard Agribusiness School in London, England.

Mr. Machado authored Proposition 13, the “Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Bond Act.” He also assisted in the passage of Proposition 50, the “Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002.”

Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla says the organization is being funded by the South and Central Delta water agencies. She says that they have over 20 groups and it is growing rapidly. In speaking to the North Delta Community Area Residents for Environmental Stability of Clarksburg, better known by its acronym, North Delta CARES, at Husick’s Country Store in Clarksburg this past week, she quickly gave reasons why they are opposed to the Prop 1 water bond:

  • The debt issue in California.
  • The projects the water bond proposes net only a 1 percent increase in water supply in California. Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla said the cost to the taxpayers is way too much.
  • The state wants to buy water that the citizens of California already own.

“The state is already $777 billion in debt,” said Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla. As she explained it, $128 billion of that is on general bond debt in California, which already eats up 21% of the budget every year.

And since borrowed money is seldom free, when interest is tacked on the bond bloats to $14.4 billion. Taxpayers would be paying $360 million a year for 40 years including interest, she said.

“Let’s get a little more Delta centric to talk about what’s going to happen to water and water supplies through the Delta all the way out to the Golden Gate,” she told the audience. “We look at all the pots of money throughout that water bond — whether it is money to put back into the funding for the Central Valley Project, the wildlife refuges, ability to buy flows to put water back into the system — you’re looking at a total of $900 million — close to $1 billion. There are two fundamental problems with it. As a citizen who believes in good government and cares about the environment first and foremost, the water the state and water districts want to buy is water that you and the citizens of California already own. Under the Constitution and as part of the public trust, you already own that water. Why in the world are we going to ask our citizens to pay for the water that they already own?

“That is the fundamental flaw in terms of good government. The flaw in terms of the environment is, if we have to start buying water to protect fish, it is all over, because the fish will always lose. The environment will always lose,” she said.

Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla said the Sacramento River is over subscribed by five times. “The water sources for the two out of three major projects in the bond are the raising of Shasta Dam, Sites Reservoir, and Temperance Flat.” The water source for the first two those projects is the Sacramento River; Temperance Flat would be built on the upper San Joaquin River.

“Very few times in history has Shasta Dam been completely filled. When you put all three of those dam projects together, you will net between those three projects in an average year 316,000 acre-feet of water per year. That’s it,” she declared. “The total construction cost is between $7.85 and $9 billion. “You’re looking at only a 1 percent increase in water for that much debt.”

Due to scientists forecasting a 21 percent reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, due to rising temperatures, without even talking about the amount of rainfall, there will be even less water to put into dams in California, she said.

“We have over 1,400 dams in California, according to the American Society of Engineers. On their 2013 report card they’ve already built dams on the best sites you should build dams. Even Friends of the River are not against storage or against every dam—just the dumb ones,” Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla added.

She noted that over the state’s dam inventory, 807 dams are at high risk today. “If people are worried about flood threats and climate change and pulling out the water for drought, it seems to me you should be worried about maintaining the current existing infrastructure,” said Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla. “Of those 1,400 dams in California, only 45 percent of them have an emergency preparedness plan. We are not prepared for the dam disasters. We have dams that are in very, very bad shape.”

She said one of the problems with the water bond is that it “was crafted in 48 hours and is not the same bond we lived with for the past four years,” referring to a proposed water bond that was repeatedly taken off the ballot before it could be voted on after politicians and their pollsters realized it would sink to defeat.

“So you get the new bond that says there has to be a recreation component in any storage project in order for it to move forward. I don’t know about you, but I can’t water ski in an underground reservoir, which is where you need to be putting water,” she said.

Raising Shasta Dam

Sixty percent of the benefits for raising the height of Shasta Dam are supposedly a public benefit for fish, she said. “You tell me, where in the world do they put up a dam for fish? At Temperance Flat, it’s worse at 73 percent of the benefits for fish. At Sites Reservoir people say it’s great, but they want to put it in fields that are laden with chromium and mercury because of past mining. I don’t think you want that water coming down the Sacramento River. We have enough problems with mercury throughout the Delta.”

Indian partners stand to lose

“Two of our coalition partners since the beginning of the tunnels battle include the Winnemem Wintu tribe at Shasta that was registered in the Federal Register as a national tribe at the federal level. One day when the federal government decided to build Shasta, they erased the tribe from the Register. They are a culture that has struggled for survival. If Shasta is raised, their 21 sacred cultural sites are gone. They presently own a small piece of property southeast of Redding. They struggle with their status and funding. They are some of the most beautiful people I know in California,” she said.

A second problem no one paid attention to, she said, is that is they want to put the Sites Reservoir where the Concow Maidu tribe has lived for years. “So we’re talking about wiping out another community. And for someone who has spent all these years fighting to save this community (Clarksburg and the Delta), I just can’t in good consciousness say, ‘It’s their problem now.’ There’s got to be a better way to do projects in California.”

Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla asked, “Have you been paying attention to how many days water quality standards have been violated this year in the Delta? The pumps never go off. We know from the 2010 Water Resources Control Board that we have adequate water quality control standards. The benchmark has been set too low to keep the total estuary healthy.

“Now let’s throw in the BDCP component that says it is tunnel neutral on the water bond. You can write all kinds of things into a bond. How that money is going to get appropriated also depends on how other documents are written and how the end results are operated,” she warned.

Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla told the group that through a public records act request in March 2013 “we know that the BDCP on March 29, 2013 wrote a BDCP Supplemental Water Concept. What that document says is that they needed to create a fund of $1-$1.5 billion for water to be used for environmental flows. But guess what? It can also be sued for export liability. If you and I are willing to pay for it, they can make the project pencil out for Westlands and Kern County Water Agencies. Again, this goes back to ‘What do I want to pay for it as a taxpayer?’

She said she has no problem spending pubic money for public infrastructure. “I do have a problem when my tax dollars are going for projects that benefit a very small percentage and doesn’t create infrastructure that serves the greater good.

“That environmental account came with the water purchases for and after the tunnels. It will just be a repeat of the environmental water account like with Stewart Resnick in 2009 when he bought up water through the environmental water account and sold it for hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as other big growers on the west side of the San Joaquin for speculative development of desert cities.”

Habitat in the Delta

“When we finished our BDCP comments our colleague and friend, Bill Jennings from the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance pulled together an absolute, wonderful major report,” Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla said. “We live in the Delta and like to say, ‘Come on out. I’ll show you the bad habitat and what’s wrong with it. That’s lovely and I see it all with my own eyes. But it is all really antidotal. The fact is you have to use facts and science to beat ‘them’ at their own game. Well, Bill beat them at their own game. The truth is, out of 27 habitat projects built over the past 25 years, he documented that they have turned the Delta into methylmercury sinks, the water is too hot, and they are overgrown with invasive species and not been maintained.”

A moment of irony

“Here I stand, as an environmentalist, telling you I am really against the habitat project,” continued Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla. “I am really against the habitat project. But on a science level, even more.”

Since 1996 a group of state and federal agencies called Cal-Fed has spent more than $50 million buying up farmland in the Delta designed to convert farmlands into wetlands and wildlife habitat.

But now studies are showing that wetlands can actually intensify problems with mercury, which is a neurotoxin that can cause brain cancer and even death.

Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla told the Clarksburg CARE audience that she thinks the BDCP is building a lake habitat for predators. She added that it is easy to write a piece of legislature that says these habitat projects will not have anything to do with the BDCP twin tunnels “because you shuffle them back into Category A.” She said research has revealed over 150,000 acres of habitat between state lands, county lands, and private lands in the Greater Delta.

“The fisheries have been crashing since when they put the Central Valley Project on line (in 1937),” said Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla. “We have to reduce the total flows that go out if we are going to have a vibrant fishery, not just for the Delta, but also for San Francisco and the coastal salmon fishery. We need free flowing water that moves through the Delta, cleans the system and gets fish out of here to the ocean. I can’t stress that enough as being another problem with the water bond.”

Prop 1 for the rest of the state

Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla listed the following significant points for the rest of the state:

  • “Sixty to 70 percent of the water bond is pork and will create projects that will hurt people in the community and fisheries. Again, the $1 billion for purchasing water is water we already own.”
  • “The $2.7 billion for dams that won’t net any significant new water”
  • Administration fees larded throughout the bond
  • The money marked for conservancies that have nothing to do with watershed restoration throughout the state.

“We have some problems with our own local legislators who are supporting Prop 1. Here is the key — we’re all under political pressure. Those legislators have to be forced to do the right thing by the citizens.”

But she sees good parts of the bond

She went on to say there are some good water projects in the bond: One is funding for clean drinking water to some of those cities in the San Joaquin Valley next to the big growers like Westlands. But then Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla quickly said from prior bonds, “We have $2.9 billion that has not been spent for water projects that should have been spent for clear water projects to clean up the same water.” She added that “we have another $450 million in federal grants that the state has not tapped.

“How many times can you sell people on the fact you need cold drinking water for this one specific community?” Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla asked the Clarksburg audience.

“What’s worse is, when they chopped this one, they only cut the funding for the bad projects by 10 percent, but they cut the money for good conservation like recycling, groundwater, recharge, the things we needed for near term action through the drought by 36 percent. That just drives me crazy!”

She said some Los Angeles people are thinking they have to support Prop 1 to get groundwater cleanup money. “But then people are getting hip to the fact that, gee, what you put in the bond is only going to cleanup one third of what we need in the San Fernando Valley. They did not put enough money into the right investments.”

Is that just the way it is in California?

“Other people say this is the way politics works. They have to craft a compromise. This is how you get things done,” she said.

“My response always is I understand people want their legislators to get things done, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. But this bond is not good enough for California because it doesn’t get to the real solutions that we need. We need significant investments because we have pipes crumbling like the water break at UCLA (July 29 that drained 8-10 million gallons of water at 75,000 gallons per minute before the water could be shut off). There was another 1.6 gallons lost in San Diego when a 64-year-old, 18” cast iron pipe broke Sept. 3 that took 80 minutes to just shut down and disrupted hospitals in the Birdland area of the city.”

Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla urged the audience to read a story in a Cathedral City newspaper under noonprop1.org that told about a broken city water pipe for four years in that desert city. “The investment in California would be $80 billion. That will have to come with public and private partnerships on the regional level and people demanding accountability of people in their water districts,” she said.

She said new technology is also being ignored. “There is a new underground wireless system where you can track water breaks in five minutes and get your repair team out there. We’re looking at a much smaller investment to get these systems put in the water districts throughout California while you’re dealing with the bigger infrastructure problem. That gets you more water than if you try to build projects that give a 1 percent increase.

She said one doesn’t have to go far from the Delta to see where improvements can be made. “When I drive eight miles east of Stockton, I see overhead sprinklers hitting county roads at 3 p.m. That’s when I go bang my head against the wall.”

You can watch Mrs. Barrigan-Parrilla’s entire speech and the followup question and answer period in the following two videos:

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