Garamendi, local leaders urge support for tunnel cost-benefit analysis

Left to right: North Delta Farmer Heringer, Sacramento Supervisor Nottolli, Professor Michael, Assemblywoman Yamada, Consulting Engineer P...

Left to right: North Delta Farmer Heringer, Sacramento Supervisor Nottolli, Professor Michael, Assemblywoman Yamada, Consulting Engineer Pyke, Assemblyman Berryhill, State Senator Wolk, Rep. Garamendi, San Joaquin Supervisors Ruhstaller and Vogel.
by Dan Bacher

On October 24, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA) hosted a press conference in Sacramento urging more federal support for levees in rural parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and calling for a statewide cost-benefit analysis of the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

Joined by a bipartisan coalition of local leaders representing diverse Delta communities, Garamendi, a Member of the House Natural Resources Committee and former Deputy U.S. Interior Secretary under President Bill Clinton, said the cost-benefit analysis is necessary to ensure the plan does not cause harm to Northern California farming, fishing, and tourism.

A broad coalition of fishermen, family farmers, Indian Tribes, grassroots environmentalists and elected officials opposes the BDCP's proposal to construct two giant peripheral tunnels to divert massive amounts of Delta water to corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Congressman Garamendi is the author of H.R. 6484, the SAFE Levee Act, which provides a funding stream for the Delta region's flood infrastructure and calls for a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of the BDCP.

"We're here today to let policymakers in Sacramento and Washington know that the Delta needs robust flood protection, and it needs it now," Congressman Garamendi said. "The Delta sustains life for thousands of family farmers and fisherman. It supplies vital water for much of the state. It's in every Californian's interest to make sure that that the Delta is protected."

"The Bay Delta Conservation Plan as presently envisioned is a classic case of plumbing before policy," Garamendi emphasized. "We need a complete, objective, science-based cost-benefit analysis of the BDCP plan, including a no-peripheral conveyance option."

"We need to make sure that the plan adequately examines the need for levee maintenance, water recycling, conservation, storage, and habitat restoration. Only then can we craft a truly balanced plan that serves the needs of all Californians," he added.

The press conference took place several days after a review of Federal Election Commission records by this reporter exposed an effort by the politically powerful Westlands Water District to replace two pro-Delta Representatives, John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney, with two candidates, Kim Vann and Ricky Gill, more aligned with their effort to drain the Delta.

Westlands growers, their PACs, and their associated growing associations have given at least $35,000 to Congressional Candidate Kim Vann, who is running in California District 3 against incumbent Congressman John Garamendi. The link to the Vann contributions is here.

Westlands Water District is known for its relentless efforts over the years to stop the restoration of salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt and other fish species on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, its unsuccessful legal campaign to block Trinity River restoration and its current campaign to build the peripheral tunnels.

Two prominent State Senators, a University of Pacific economist, a Delta farmer, members of the Delta Counties Coalition and other local leaders joined Garamendi in support of the legislation.

"Plans for the Delta need to change and focus on practical, realistic solutions," said Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis). "It is irresponsible to continue to ignore the countless Delta improvements that could be cheaply and quickly implemented while the BDCP process stubbornly drags on with tunnel vision. Congressman Garamendi's bill moves us closer to that approach."

"The Delta is California's epicenter for a reliable water supply, so it is absolutely critical that it be protected and its levees strengthened," said Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), a member of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. "But this should be done only after a careful cost-benefit analysis has been conducted and Delta communities and all stakeholders have had a voice in the planning process; it's what Delta legislators have asked for and it's the right thing to do."

"Since the BDCP process started, the cost estimates of Delta conveyance have increased from $4 billion to $14 billion, the water supply and environmental benefits have declined, and seismic levee improvements have been shown to provide a broader range of economic benefits than the tunnels for a fraction of the cost," said Dr. Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. "An initial benefit-cost analysis finds that BDCP is a bad deal for all Californians, and the repeated refusal of state and federal agencies to follow their own economic analysis guidelines is troubling."

"I appreciate and support Congressman Garamendi's hard work in Washington to make sure that our area has a voice in what happens to our local water supplies, farms and communities," said Steve Heringer, North Delta Farmer & President, Reclamation District 999. "H.R. 6484, the SAFE Levee Act, is an important step in making sure this District and the entire state choose wisely when it comes to spending taxpayer money on new water projects and that California's economy will prosper in the long run."

According to the Delta Counties Coalition, "The SAFE Levee Act seeks to address two vitally important concerns of our region: the need for additional federal assistance to help maintain and strengthen levees for both water quality purposes and the protection of the Delta agricultural economy, and the need for a full and thorough benefit-cost analysis of all alternatives under consideration through the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) process, including at least one option that does not require the construction of one or more water conveyance tunnels. Such a comprehensive analysis is vitally important to enable a fair comparison between non-structural and structural alternatives for achieving the co-equal goals of improving water supply reliability and protecting and restoring the health of the Delta estuary and wetland ecosystem."

For 60 years, the Bureau of Reclamation has used the Delta levees and plumbing system to ship water from the Sacramento River through the Delta to the pumps without providing the necessary maintenance, according to a statement from Garamendi's office.This neglect has left the levees in disrepair and threatens public safety.

Garamendi said the Peripheral Tunnel project, proposed under the BDCP framework, continues to ignore this problem. For that reason, H.R. 6484 would authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to provide financial assistance to strengthen the stability of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta levees which are necessary for water conveyance and the protection of human life and property in the region.

House Representatives Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton, CA), Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento, CA), George Miller (D-Martinez, CA), and Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena, CA) have joined as lead cosponsors of the legislation.

Delta and salmon advocates oppose the construction of the gigantic tunnels because they would divert more Delta water to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests and Southern California water agencies in an estuary already besieged by record water exports under the Schwarzenegger and Brown administrations. The tunnel's construction would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species.

2011 was a record year for water exports to corporate agribusiness and Southern California, resulting in the "salvage" of a record 9 million Sacramento splittail and over 2 million other fish including Central Valley salmon, steelhead, striped bass, largemouth bass, threadfin shad, white catfish and sturgeon.

“Make no mistake,” said Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe on July 23, 2012. “The peripheral canal will destroy river ecosystems, destroy fisheries and sentence us to a future where clean water is a luxury rather than a right."

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