Bay Delta Conservation Plan will fail to restore the estuary

by Dan Bacher | Tuesday, March 20 was a busy day for Restore the Delta (RTD), a coalition opposed to the Brown administration's ru...

by Dan Bacher |

Tuesday, March 20 was a busy day for Restore the Delta (RTD), a coalition opposed to the Brown administration's rush to construct massive peripheral tunnels to divert millions of acre-feet of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to corporate agribusiness, oil companies and Southern California developers. 

Representatives of the group, along with fishermen, environmentalists, and other Delta advocates, testified at both a public meeting in West Sacramento to discuss the first three chapters of revised Bay Delta Conservation Plan proposal and a State Water Resources Control Board (SWRB) meeting in Sacramento hearing regarding San Joaquin River flows. 
Photo of San Joaquin River below Friant Dam by Dan Bacher.

Restore the Delta criticized the revised BDCP proposal as still being "fatally flawed” - and blasted the water board for presiding over years of water quality violations on the San Joaquin River and failing to increase river flows sufficiently to restore salmon and steelhead. 

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, told the water board public hearing in the morning, "The BDCP will simply fail to restore the estuary. The proposed plan for the San Joaquin also fails to rectify years of water quality violations in the San Joaquin River and South Delta." 

"The plan fails to balance the public trust. And it fails to protect all parties equally dependent on the health of the San Joaquin River, by giving priority status and protection to upstream users - all at the expense of water users on the lower San Joaquin River, Delta farmers, Delta residents, and Delta fisheries," she said. 

"The San Joaquin River plan does, however, ensure that water exporters do not have to give up one drop of water for river and Delta restoration," Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla continued. "And it sets a dangerous precedent for how flow standards for the Sacramento River will be set if the twin tunnels are constructed and brought into operation." 

She also criticized language in the BDCP Administrative draft, in the water facilities and operations section. 

"The language does nothing to reassure us that this project will be operated any differently than the pumps are at Tracy in the present," she noted. "An adaptive management process for which a standard for cannot be set because agreement cannot be reached on the importance of spring and fall outflows is not a plan." 

Barrigan-Parrilla also zeroed in on the enormous cost of the canal at a time when the state is in economic crisis. 

"Asking the public through higher water rates and/or taxes to pay for theses tunnels, probably the first or second most costly public works project in the history of California, without understanding in advance how they will be operated, is incomprehensible. We are told to trust the regulating agencies. Well we are all learning today how well that is working out for the San Joaquin River," she said.

When Brown he says the tunnels will cost $14 billion, he is not giving the full cost of project. The cost will exceed $60 billion by the time financing, cost overruns, mitigation, operations and maintenance are counted. Californians will spend billions with not a drop more of water delivered to our cities and no benefits to the environment. 

An economic analysis released on August 7, 2012 by Food and Water Watch and C-WIN (the California Water Impact Network) reveals that Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) customers could be on the line for $2,003 to $9,182 per customer. 

Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, said the Tribe fully supports the Restore the Delta position on the the peripheral tunnels and San Joaquin River flows. 

"California people must know the true effects of the Two Water Plans that will destroy the waterways and make it irreversible," Chief Sisk said. "The filtering systems are already failing and no one is advocating for cleaning up high mountain streams, rivers, or installing adequate piping or replacing old polluting piping or rebuilding sewage plants.....all this is too expensive! It is cheaper to keep channeling contaminated water for profit." 

The meetings took place as the Brown administration appears dead set on driving Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations over the abyss of extinction. 

Between 2000 and 2011, more than 130,000,000 fish were "salvaged" in the massive state and federal pumps diverting water to corporate agribusiness and southern California, according to a white paper written by Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). Considering that recent studies point out that 5 to 10 times more fish are lost than salvaged, the actual number of fish lost could be 1.3 billion or higher. 

The carnage in the pumps has impacted 42 species, including Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, green sturgeon, striped bass, largemouth bass American shad and threadfin shad. 

Record water amounts of water were exported from the Delta under the Brown administration in 2011 – 6,520,000 acre-feet, 217,000 acre feet more than the previous record of 6,303,000 acre feet set in 2005 under the Schwarzenegger administration. The massive diversion of water resulted in the record "salvage" of nearly 9 million splittail, a fish formerly listed under the Endangered Species Act and delisted during a political scandal under the Bush administration, and over 2 million other fish. 

While fall-run Chinook salmon numbers have improved from the collapse of 2008-2009, allowing recreational and commercial fishing to resume on the California and Southern Oregon coast, the species is still in big trouble. The Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992 set a goal of doubling Chinook salmon and other anadromous fish species by 2002. ( 

The salmon population now stands at only 20 percent of the population goal required by federal law. There was a steady decline of fish from 2003 to 2010, including a record low of 7 percent. The closest we got to meeting the salmon doubling goal was in 2002, when the index peaked at 64.33 percent of the doubling goal. 

Rather than improving the dismal state of California fish populations, the construction of the peripheral tunnels would likely lead to the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species, according to agency and independent scientists. 

As Chief Sisk said, "The common people will pay for the tunnels and a few people will make millions. It will turn a once pristine waterway into a sewer pipe. It will be bad for the fish, the ocean and the people of California.” 

“The Winnemem Wintu Tribe supports No Tunnels – No Shasta Dam Raise! There should be billions of dollars spent for cleaning up the rivers, not diverting them,” she concluded. 

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