Gov. Brown Uses SOS to Promote Peripheral Tunnels

B y Dan Bacher   | As expected, Governor Jerry Brown promoted his plan to build the environmentally destructive peripheral tunnels...

By Dan Bacher |

As expected, Governor Jerry Brown promoted his plan to build the environmentally destructive peripheral tunnels on the California Delta during his State of the State Address at the State Capitol in Sacramento on January 24. 

Brown, once an ardent advocate of the "Small is Beautiful" philosophy of British economist E. F. Schumacher, is now promoting the ideology of "Bigger is Better" when it comes to building the monument to his "legacy," the peripheral tunnels. 

As Schwarzenegger did before him, Brown touted the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the tunnels as a glorious project designed to achieve the co-equal goals of water supply "reliability" and ecological "restoration." 

Brown promoted the usual fear-mongering about the imminent "threat" posed to the Delta by earthquakes, floods and rising sea levels during his addresss - and touted the tunnels as the "solution" to this "threat" rather than improving Delta levees, as Delta advocates have called for. 

"Central to the life of our state is water and one sixth of that water flows through the San Joaquin Delta," said Brown before the gathered Legislators. "Silicon Valley, the Livermore Valley, farmers on the East side of the San Joaquin Valley between Fresno and Kern County and farmers on the West side between Tracy and Los Banos, urban Southern California and Northern Contra Costa, all are critically dependent on the Delta for Water." 

"If because of an earthquake, a hundred year storm or sea level rise, the Delta fails, the disaster would be comparable to Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy: losses of at least $100 billion and 40,000 jobs," Brown claimed. "I am going to do whatever I can to make sure that does not happen." 

Brown didn't even try to create the facade in his address that other alternatives to the massive tunnels will be equally considered. 

"My proposed plan is two tunnels 30 miles long and 40 feet wide, designed to improve the ecology of the Delta, with almost 100 square miles of habitat restoration," said Brown. "Yes, that is big but so is the problem." 

"The London Olympics lasted a short while and cost $14 billion, about the same cost as this project. But this project will serve California for hundreds of years," Brown concluded. 

Restore the Delta, a grassroots organization committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California, responded to Brown’s call for the construction of the tunnels by saying the plan is "unfair, wasteful, and would devastate the Bay/Delta environment and economy." 

In a statement, Restore the Delta said, "Gov. Brown has announced his plan to dig two huge tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta - comparable to the 'Chunnel' between England and France - at the estimated cost of more than $15 billion for construction, and more than $50 billion including financing, operations and mitigation. The stated purpose is to provide water 'reliability' for Southern California users; 'reliability,' in this case, is code for more water. The delta cannot be saved and its ecological crisis cannot be addressed by taking out more water." 

“Unfortunately, Governor Brown’s speech failed to mention that the people of the Delta in a catastrophic event would experience the majority of the economic loss, and all of the loss of life,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. “In addition, the true cost of the project with interest and mitigation is 60 billion dollars not 14. His proposed tunnels are not the solution for the delta" 

“We oppose the rush to build a project that would exterminate salmon runs, destroy sustainable family farms and saddle taxpayers with tens of billions in debt, mainly to benefit a small number of huge corporate agribusinesses on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley," Barrigan Parrilla stated. "This proposal is fatally-flawed and would cost billions upon billions of dollars to give ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidized water to corporate agriculture and real estate developers to make millions upon millions in profits. It is the ultimate fleecing of ratepayers and taxpayers." 

Barrigan pointed to "better solutions" for restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. 

"One is shoring up Delta levees," she pointed out. "This is a far more cost-effective way than Peripheral Tunnels to ensure water reliability for the state and preserve environmental and economic stability for the greater Delta. Levee rehabilitation can be done for a $2 billion to $4 billion rather than the $15 billion or so estimated for the tunnel conveyance under the Delta. The governor is ignoring solid evidence of the best and most cost-effective methods to manage our water resources. Instead, he is supporting a project that favors the largest corporate agribusiness growers of the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley." 

She also said the construction of the tunnels is "not necessary" for providing water for California agriculture, businesses and communities. 

"Alternative plans have been put forward that would reduce water exports from the bay-delta estuary, in keeping with the state requirement to reduce reliance on delta water. Those plans would avoid the need for more plumbing to export more water," said Barrigan-Parrilla. 

Barrigan-Parrilla emphasized, “A major reason for the endangerment of fish species and degradation of delta habitat is that not enough water runs through the delta to sustain them. Scientists have pointed out the need to reduce exports below what the water agencies want in order to allow fish and habitat to recover. Their own studies show there could be species decline and extinction, and the project could make things worse than not doing anything at all." 

She said that rather than relying on "false arguments" for constructing the Peripheral Tunnels, the governor should be focusing on the real issues and more cost-effective solutions to restore the Delta ecosystem and to provide a sustainable water supply to Silicon Valley and all of California. 

On the other hand, the water contractors applauded Brown's call to build the twin tunnels. 

“Governor Brown’s continued focus on water is welcome and indeed essential," said Timothy Quinn, Executive Director of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA). "This is the year to make progress on addressing our daunting water supply challenges. As the governor noted, the problems are big and big-picture thinking is needed to invest in solutions that protect the environment, improve water supplies and work for all regions of the state." 

Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, summed up the danger that the peripheral tunnels pose to California's fish, people and rivers.

"The common people will pay for the peripheral tunnels and a few people will make millions," emphasized Sisk. "It will turn a once pristine water way into a sewer pipe. It will be all bad for the fish, the ocean and the people of California." 

A full transcript of the governor’s address is available on the governor’s website

Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird recently received the “Cold, Dead Fish Awards” for 2012 for continuing and expanding Arnold Schwarzenegger’s war against fish, fishermen, tribal communities and the environment. Why? 

First, Brown's plan to build the peripheral tunnels will hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species, according to agency and independent scientists alike. 

Second, Brown and Laird continued the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative started by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004. Shamefully, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Resources Agency have issued press release after press release failing to mention the conflicts of interest, failure to comprehensively protect the ocean, shadowy private funding and incomplete and terminally flawed science that have made the MLPA Initiative into one of the most appalling examples of corporate greenwashing in California history. 

Third, Brown and Laird and Brown presided over record water exports to corporate agribusiness and Southern California in 2011, 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. 

Other environmental policies of the Schwarzenegger administration that Brown and Laird have continued include engineering the collapse of six Delta fish populations by pumping massive quantities of water out of the Delta; presiding over the annual stranding of endangered coho salmon on the Scott and Shasta rivers; clear cutting forests in the Sierra Nevada; supporting legislation weakening the California Environmental Water Quality Act (CEQA); and embracing the corruption and conflicts of interests that infest California environmental processes and government bodies ranging from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to the regional water boards. 

The State of the State Address only confirms Governor Jerry Brown's worthiness in receiving the "Cold, Dead Fish Award" for 2012 - and puts him on a clear path for winning the "prestigious" award again in 2013!

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