Resources Secretary uses snow survey to rush corporate water grab

by Dan Bacher | Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird cynically used the release of the latest Sierra Nevada snow survey on Marc...

by Dan Bacher |

Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird cynically used the release of the latest Sierra Nevada snow survey on March 28 to campaign for the construction of the peripheral tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, just as he has done every spring since being appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. 

Snow surveyors reported Thursday that water content in California’s snowpack is only 52 percent of normal, with the spring melt season already under way, according to the Department of Water Resources. After a record dry January and February in much of the state, DWR has decreased its water delivery estimate from 40 to 35 percent of requested amounts from the State Water Project (SWP). 
John Laird

“With today’s snow survey, the table has been set for yet another very dry year,” gushed Laird, who presided over record water exports and a record fish kill at the Delta pumps in 2011. “Add to that pumping restrictions imposed this winter because of vulnerable smelt and salmon populations, and it is clear that the security of California’s water supply is threatened.” 

“The realities of nature point to the urgent need to continue work on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the Brown administration’s effort to secure the water supply for 25 million Californians and reverse over a century of environmental degradation in the Delta,” Laird claimed. “Advancing this large-scale public investment will provide long-term security for our economy and environment.” 

Without a hint of irony, Laird said, “We also ask that every Californian do their part by conserving water every day. Take a shorter shower, be mindful of how long your sprinklers run, and fix that leaky faucet!” 

While asking Californians to “fix that leaky faucet,” Laird failed to acknowledge the millions of acre feet of water that the peripheral tunnels will waste on irrigating drainage-impaired corporate agribusiness operations on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and on fracking for oil and natural gas in Kern County and coastal areas. 

Laird and Governor Jerry Brown are fast tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to drain the Delta in spite of massive opposition by fishermen, family farmers, tribal leaders, grassroots enviromentalists, elected officials and the vast majority of Californians. The peripheral tunnel plan is proceeding forward without any approval by the voters because the Brown administration knows that the project would be overwhelming defeated by the voters just like the peripheral canal was in 1982. 

The tunnel plan is simply a corporate water grab by agribusiness, oil companies and Southern California water agencies. The "habitat restoration" in the plan is added as an afterthought by state officials to green wash the destruction of the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. 

The construction of the North Delta intakes for the tunnels will spread the carnage of Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead and other fish species north to the Sacramento River while the massive fish kills at the state and federal water pumping facilities will continue. 

How can we trust the state and federal governments to construct state-of-the-art fish screens on the new intakes, as they have claimed they will do, when they have failed to install them, as required under the CalFed process, at the existing pumps in the South Delta? 

And how can we possibly trust an administration that presided over record exports and massive fish kills at the Delta pumps to suddenly transform itself into a "green" administration that cares about fish, the Delta and the public trust? 

Between 2000 and 2011, more than 130,000,000 fish were "salvaged" in the massive state and federal pumps diverting water south, 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. 

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. 

As Laird advises us to “take a shorter shower, be mindful of how long your sprinklers run, and fix that leaky faucet,” he and Governor Jerry Brown are fast-tracking a pork barrel boondoggle that will deliver millions of acre feet of water to corporate agribusiness, southern California water agencies and oil and gas companies while pushing Central Valley chinook salmon, steelhead and Delta fish populations over the abyss of extinction. 

While Laird and other state officials are promoting the threat of "drought" as justification to build the peripheral tunnels just as Schwarzenegger administration officials did every spring from 2008 to 2010, most key storage reservoirs are above or near historic levels for the date despite the dwindling snowpack. 

"Thanks to November and December storms, Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s principal storage reservoir, is at 108 percent of its average level for the date (83 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity)," according to DWR. "Shasta Lake north of Redding, the federal Central Valley Project’s largest reservoir with a capacity of 4.5 million acre-feet, is at 102 percent of its normal storage level for the date (82 percent of capacity)." 

It must be understood that the peripheral canal or twin tunnels won't create any new water - they will only take more water from senior water rights holders on the Delta, Sacramento Valley and Trinity River, at a tremendous cost to fish, fishermen, Indian Tribes and family farmers. 

"If I took a cup of snow from Washington, DC back home with me and dumped it in the Delta, it would create more new water than the peripheral canal," Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) recently quipped on his facebook page. 

Rather than promoting a tunnel project that could cost Californians up $60 billion while driving salmon and other fish to extinction, Laird should take a hard look at the "Reduced Exports Plan," an alternative plan to the tunnels developed by the Environmental Water Caucus. This plan demonstrates how water supply reliability can be improved while reducing exports from the Bay Delta Estuary. This plan includes a unique combination of actions that will open the discussion for alternatives to the currently failed policies that continuously attempt to use water as though it were a limitless resource. (

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