Surprise: White Paper Commissioned by Delta Tunnels Proponents Claims CAWaterFix Would Benefit Fish



By Dan Bacher | March 15, 2018 | 

The Orange County Coastkeeper has commissioned a white paper, “Making the Delta a Better Place for Native Fishes,” claiming Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels could help to restore Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta fish if built. 

The report (https://www.coastkeeper.org/white-paper) is authored by Peter B. Moyle, John Durand and Carson Jeffres of the Center for Watershed Sciences, University of California, Davis.

The white paper recommends a number of positive things that can be done to restore nine Delta and longfin smelt, Sacramento River Chinook salmon and other fish species, ranging from habitat restoration to managing flows better.

However, the conclusion that has drawn fire from fish and public trust advocates is that the California WaterFix in its “various manifestations” has the following “positive aspects for fishes (Appendix C. Delta Water Conveyance Alternatives. What’s Good for Fish?, p. 49)

• Entrainment of delta smelt into the export pumps in the south Delta would be reduced because intakes would be upstream of current smelt habitat and would be screened. Other fishes will be also be largely screened out of the tunnels.

• Flows presumably can be better managed to reduce North-South cross- Delta movement of water to create a more East-West estuarine-like gradient of habitat, especially in the north Delta.

• Large investments will be made in habitat restoration projects (adding to EcoRestore) to benefit native fishes, including the various runs of salmon.

The authors do admit, “There are huge uncertainties associated with WaterFix, in terms of effects on fishes.”

“It is a giant experiment that may or may not work as promised, no matter what the models and experts say,” the authors wrote.  “The giant fish screens needed for WaterFix to work, for example, will be pushing screening technology to the limit, and have to protect weak swimmers like smelt and juvenile sturgeon as well as juvenile salmon.”

So the question is: what do we do if this “giant experiment” doesn’t work? Do the state and federal governments just let the impacted fish go extinct - or do they take out or modify the tunnels and start over again?  

The introduction by Garry Brown, Founder and President of the Orange County Coastkeeper, is very instructive, since it shows Delta Tunnels backers formed the steering committee that provided guidance for this report — and “reviewed and provided comments for seven drafts of this paper.” 

These include Sat Tamaribuchi, an elected Director of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC); Rob Hunter, MWDOC’s “very experienced and wise General Manager;” Karl Seckel, Deputy General Manager of MWDOC; and Tom Raftican, Executive Director of the Sportfishing Conservancy. The Sportfishing Conservancy is the only fishing group in the state that supports Governor Brown’s Delta Tunnels plan, as far as I know.

For years, the Orange County Coastkeeper, the sponsor of Peter Moyle’s latest report, has been supported by companies and water districts, including the Irvine Ranch Water District, the Irvine Company, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern California Edison, that could benefit from the construction of Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels.

Other sponsors of the organization have included the Walmart Foundation and Wells Fargo Foundation. For the complete list of Coastkeeper Garden Sponsors, go to: https://www.coastkeeper.org/the-garden/

I find it troubling that the advocates of the Delta Tunnels have chosen to hire scientists to push the agenda of a project that would, in the estimation of independent scientists, Tribes, fishing groups, conservation organizations and environmental justice groups, hasten the extinction of native fish populations. These species include Sacramento River winter and spring Chinook, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon, as well as the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, told Water Deeply she believes the paper’s findings were influenced by MWD.  

“I believe Dr. Moyle delivered a theory based on the opinions of the people who funded his work,” Barrigan-Parrilla said. “It’s really heartbreaking. [Peter Moyle] is going to wind up on the wrong side of history.” 

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), said the report is “an embarrassment to Moyle and his reputation.”

“It’s based on three unsupportable premises: First, that the three near-mile long unproven experimental fish screens will work,” said Moyle. “Second, that all of the associated restoration will work. Third, that total Delta exports will not increase. And fourth, that adaptive management will work even though it hasn’t worked during the 30 years that it’s been practiced on the Delta.”

He also said Moyle also assumed that “meaningful restoration is politically unfeasible” and that the only thing politically feasible is preserving some small remnant  of fisheries in the North Delta while “a sacrifice zone is created in the Central, South and East Delta.”

“This is the Delta proposal equivalent to Marshall Petain’s acquiescence to Germany during the Second World War,” Jennings concluded.

I  find it troubling that Dr. Moyle, a scientist and author that I respected for many years, has authored a report financed and guided by Delta Tunnels proponents that advances a project that many consider to be potentially the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history — and a clear case of “water theft.”

During the public comment period at the State Water Resources Control Board on February 8, Pennie Opal Plant of Idle No More SF Bay urged the board to reject the petition required to build the California WaterFix, describing the WaterFix as “a water theft.”

“I am a signatory to the Indigenous Women of the Americas – Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact 2015. We can’t live without water and neither can our non-human relatives. The WaterFix is a water theft. You cannot approve the WaterFix,” urged Plant.

”From my heart to yours, especially to the women, our babies swim in the seas of our wombs. Please protect this water and the life that lives inside of our bellies. Please protect this sacred system of life that swims in the Delta. If we don’t protect the Delta now, it’s going to be damaged beyond the capability to maintain human and non-human life. It’s up to us,” she stated.

The essential question not addressed in this white paper or previous public relations efforts to sell the unpopular Delta Tunnels to the public and elected officials is: Can you provide one example in U.S. or world history where a project that diverts water from a river or estuary has restored that river or estuary?

I’ve asked this question many times in my testimony at public hearings regarding the Delta Tunnels. Not one Delta Tunnels advocate, including scientists hired to promote the project, has been able to answer this question. 

Below is the part of the introduction by Garry Brown that shows how Delta Tunnels proponents provided “guidance” for this white paper:

"I want to thank individuals and organizations that helped make this paper possible and ensured it was as impactful as possible. First, my dear friend, Sat Tamaribuchi, who has told me for years nothing will bring California to its knees faster than a major failure of the Delta. He is an elected Director of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC). Sat enlisted Rob Hunter, MWDOC’s very experienced and wise General Manager, then Rob enlisted Karl Seckel, Deputy General Manager of MWDOC, who redefines intelligence and getting things done. I brought in a friend, colleague and conservationist, Tom Rafitcan, Executive Director of the Sportfishing Conservancy. This small band of leaders became the steering committee that provided guidance. Many individuals reviewed and provided comments for seven drafts of this paper. The common thread between them was their passion to improve the Delta, though they have diverse views on how to achieve it. Another valuable voice from the beginning has been that of Curt Schmutte, a consulting expert on the Delta and he has the experience of successfully managing restoration projects there. Sat Tamaribuchi, who has told me for years nothing will bring California to its knees faster than a major failure of the Delta. He is an elected Director of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC). Sat enlisted Rob Hunter, MWDOC’s very experienced and wise General Manager, then Rob enlisted Karl Seckel, Deputy General Manager of MWDOC, who redefines intelligence and getting things done. I brought in a friend, colleague and conservationist, Tom Rafitcan, Executive Director of the Sportfishing Conservancy.”





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