"Why would anyone choose to sacrifice family farms on prime farmland in the Delta in order to send subsidized water to grow subsidized crops on the impaired soils of Westside plantations, whose owners live in Pacific Heights and Beverly Hills?" asked Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).
Photo of Helene Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribe; Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe; and Kayla Carpenter, Hoopa Valley Tribe, protesting against the peripheral tunnels in Sacramento. Photo by Ricardo Torres.
Fishermen, tribal members and enviros blast Brown tunnel plan
by Dan Bacher
Over 400 people, including fishermen, environmentalists, family farmers, and a large contingent of members of the Winnemem Wintu, Pit River, Hoopa Valley and Miwok Tribes, protested Wednesday's announcement by Governor Jerry Brown and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to fast track the plan to build the peripheral tunnels around the California Delta.
Restore the Delta, local, state and federal elected officials, the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, the Planning and Conservation League, the Environmental Water Caucus, Friends of the River, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Golden Gate Salmon Association and a dozen other groups on Wednesday launched their campaign against the “Peripheral Tunnels” with a rally at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
Opponents pointed out “fatal flaws” of the twin tunnels they said would damage water, the environment, fish, and farming and impose billions of dollars of increases on water ratepayers.
“I’m disappointed," said Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) at the rally. "Californians resoundingly rejected the same ‘plumbing before policy’ approach in the Delta 30 years ago. We already learned this lesson. It doesn’t need repeating. This is a step backward."
"This plan justifies tremendous risks to the people, economy, and ecosystem of this extraordinary estuary in order to appease the excessive demands of a select group of politically powerful water interests,” Wolk said. “It will also use billions in higher water rates and taxpayer borrowing to build the largest, most expensive state-sponsored water project in half a century, even before we know if it can be used. We are supposed to trust that a project with no legislative oversight, no public accountability and no budget control will be built without waste, tax increases, costly overruns and errors. California can’t afford that multi-billion dollar gamble.”
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said, “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. This proposal is fatally-flawed.”
Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, said, “The common people will pay for the tunnels and a few people will make millions. It will turn a once pristine Delta waterway into a sewer pipe. It will be bad for the fish, the ocean and the people of California."
Sisk emphasized that the Tribes are covered under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which declares that the indigenous people must give their "Free, Prior, and informed consent" for the use of the waters downstream from them.
“We have not given our "Free, Prior, and informed consent" for the California Governor to divert water destined to the estuary or US Government to build the Shasta Dam higher,” said Sisk. “These are 'rights protected' under the 'UN DRIP' that President Obama signed. I don't know a single tribe that has given their 'Free, Prior, and Informed Consent!' Stop the California Water plans to destroy all the salmon, fish, and ground water systems!"
“The salmon clean the water, they are the miner’s canary,” she said. “What happens to the salmon happens to the people."
Tunnel opponents also slammed the failure to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal, and said the costs would fall on water ratepayers, particularly those in southern California.
Kristin Lynch, Pacific Region Director for Food & Water Watch, said, “This project 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."
She explained, "The special interests argue this is the only way to secure reliable water for southern California. This is false. California will not go dry without these tunnels. This is a fallacy that those moneyed special interests use to try and create an artificial rift between the north and south."
"There are no guarantees that southern California residents will receive more water. As an indication to the contrary- LA Dept. of Water and Power is already projecting increased rates for decreased water consumption. How much will rates need to increase if this project moves forward?" Lynch concluded.
Jim Metropulos, senior advocate for Sierra Club California, said, “We need to know upfront what the impacts of the project are and how they are going to mitigate these impacts or to actually improve conditions for fish. The plan states that some species, like the winter Chinook salmon, would be harmed by the construction of the tunnels. Their own studies show there could be species decline and extinction, and the project could make things worse than not doing anything at all,"
Jonas Minton, water policy adviser for the Planning and Conservation League, said the proposal takes a "Build it now, figure it out later approach."
"But after they spend billions building new tunnels, the pressure would be overwhelming to maximize water exports no matter the consequences on the fish," he stated.
Zeke Grader, representing the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Golden Gate Salmon Association, said, “History clearly shows those who covet salmon water in California will take as much of it as they can get away with. They’ve done it time and again. They’ve been reined in a bit since pumping restrictions designed to keep salmon and other fish from going extinct went into effect starting in late 2008."
"The agribusinesses have been in court ever since trying to get these pumping restrictions thrown out. Thankfully, no court has yet granted their wish but they clearly would crank the pumps as high as they’d go if allowed. This is what they did between the year 2000 and 2006 when they set all time high pumping records," Grader said.
Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said, “Two-thirds of Delta water exports go to support 0.3-0.4% of the California population and economy (GDP) on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley. Less than a third goes to areas representing two-thirds of the state’s population and economy."
"Why would anyone choose to sacrifice family farms on prime farmland in the Delta in order to send subsidized water to grow subsidized crops on the impaired soils of Westside plantations, whose owners live in Pacific Heights and Beverly Hills? Why would we use two and a half times the water to grow an almond in the Westside of the Valley than is required to grow an almond in Butte County? The ‘tunnels’ represent more than simply a transfer of good quality water around the Delta. They also represent a massive transfer of wealth from north to south," urged Jennings.
Senator Wolk concluded, "You can’t restore the Delta without the active participation of the people and communities that live in the Delta. When the state’s plan for the Delta incorporates these truths, the trust will follow. When we restore that trust, we can restore the Delta.”
Note: I will post a more indepth article on the rally and the Governor's announcement, complete with photos, tomorrow.