Delta News: Westlands Bailout, Delta Biologist Speaks Out, & More

Dear friends,

Below are important media alerts that deserve a wide readership!

In case you missed it, media alerts: 

Westlands water deal is all wet
San Francisco Chronicle editorial 

Full article:

When the public is railing about the unfairness of Big Bank bailouts and corporate welfare, why is the Obama administration pursuing a deal that gives away California water — a resource as precious as oil — to a San Joaquin Valley water agency?

A proposed legal settlement would wipe off the federal books a long-standing lawsuit but also reward the Westlands Water District with what every community in the arid West would like — a permanent water contract.

The proposed agreement and the changes in law required to implement it contained in HR4366 give away water that belongs to all Californians and do nothing to ensure the state’s land, wildlife and humans are protected from pollution.

Here’s the story: The Department of the Interior has a duty to provide drainage for the district to dispose of selenium-polluted water. Under the settlement agreement, the federal government would transfer responsibility for building and managing the drain to Westlands. In exchange, it would forgive the $375 million still owed taxpayers for the district’s share of the cost of the Central Valley Project, the federal water project that delivers it water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Westlands, one of the most productive and profitable agricultural areas in the world, farms lands laced with selenium salts. Westlands farmers need additional water to flush the salts from the crops’ roots so the plants or trees don’t turn brown and die. Without flushing, the land eventually becomes too toxic to farm. Without a drain, the selenium-laden runoff contaminates groundwater and waterways.

The proposed agreement, according to the Congressional Research Service, fails to require Westlands to say how it would protect water quality. It includes no consequences — such as stopping water deliveries — if the district fails to put in an acceptable drain.

But here’s the capper: The agreement converts the district’s two-year contracts to a permanent contract for up to 890,000 acre-feet of subsidized water — a third more water than Los Angeles uses in a year. It would be cheaper to have Westlands fallow more land.

The state should object to this plan. Californians should tell Congress and the Obama administration we won’t stand for more corporate welfare.

Faulty comparison on Delta water exports, flows to S.F. Bay
Special to the Bee
by Jon Rosenfield, The Bay Institute 

Biologist Jon Rosenfield writes, "What is alarming is that, in a typical year, California diverts more than half of the winter-spring flow in Central Valley rivers; that proportion increases in drier years. During the fall and winter, nearly 60 percent of Central Valley runoff never reached the bay, and 80 percent of the San Joaquin River’s flow never made it to the Delta."


Delta Islands purchase update: Regarding the recent Sacramento Bee article, "Judge refuses to halt Delta land sale to Southern California agency," remember to have heart!  Temporary restraining orders are very difficult to achieve in court. It is still possible to have a total win on the merits of the case.The May 19th hearing will be pivotal for the Delta islands purchase. We have 10,223 signatures on our petition asking the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to reject the Delta Islands purchase and are currently preparing to present our petition next week, stay tuned! 


Tribunal Considers the Rights of Nature in the San Francisco Bay-Delta

For Immediate Release April 30, 2016

Brian P. Smith, Restore the Delta
(415) 320-9384, [email protected]
Linda Sheehan, Earth Law Center
(510) 219-7730, [email protected]
Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights
(415) 841-2998, [email protected]

Antioch, CA – Today, the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance, Restore the Delta, and Move to Amend held a “Rights of Nature Tribunal” regarding the proposed Delta Tunnels (California WaterFix) proposal.

The San Francisco Bay-Delta lies polluted and suffering in a state of perpetual, human-made drought. An estimated 95 percent of the historic Delta natural habitat has been lost. Between 2.1 million to 6.9 million acre-feet of water is exported from the Delta every year. Numerous Delta species face extinction, including the Delta Smelt and Winter-run Chinook Salmon. Marine species that depend on Delta fish for food, such as the Southern Resident Killer Whale, are also imperiled by failing Bay-Delta ecological health.

Dozens of U.S. and international laws have begun recognizing rights and legal standing for ecosystems and species as a new framework for environmental protection, including for the beleaguered Delta. These laws and tribunals are inspired by the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth.

“This is the first local nature’s rights Tribunal based on the extraordinarily successful International Rights of Nature Tribunal held in Paris during December’s climate talks,” said Linda Sheehan with Earth Law Center.

The Tribunal today addressed alleged violations of nature’s rights and human rights posed by state and federal water management decisions and by Governor Brown’s proposed Delta Tunnels, which would significantly reduce flows needed for Delta waterways and fish.

Tribunal judges included: Idle No More co-founder Pennie Opal Plant, London-based Gaia Foundation Director Liz Husked, government liaison for the Winnemem Wintu tribe Gary Mulcahy, Movement Rights director Shannon Biggs, and Delta water expert Tim Stroshane.

The Bay Area Rights of Nature Tribunal explored ways to confront a system of law that harms people and nature, identified new strategies to protect nature’s and human rights and to begin the process of healing the Delta. Judges considered water diversions from the Delta not just under existing environmental law, but from the perspective of the inherent rights of ecosystems and species, including the inherent right of the Delta to flow.

Sample Testimony by Witnesses

Roger Mammon, Delta resident and fisherman:
“Sadly, I have watched this magnificent ecosystem slowly die over the past 30 years. When I first began fishing in the Delta I was amazed watching salmon jump out of the water on their way to the Pacific. I look at the Delta as a huge lung that inhales and exhales twice a day through natural tidal movement. A huge weight has been placed on its chest and this once mighty estuary is now gasping for breath.”

Darcie Luce, Friends of the San Francisco Estuary:
“The Delta and the San Francisco Bay are one big estuary. There are now 13 fish species listed as threatened or endangered in the Delta. More than 40 percent of water is diverted, when scientists tell us at least 75 percent of the fresh water should flow through the estuary to be fully protective of fish and wildlife. With the Delta Tunnels, the amount of diverted water will remain the same or be increased. We need more freshwater flows to save the Delta, not less.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta:
“What does it mean to destroy the Delta ecosystem? Four million rural and urban residents live in the five Delta counties. The proposed Tunnels would destroy these communities that depend on a healthy delta, and their sustainable ways of life.”

Statements by the Judges

Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights:
“I have watched the harms to the Delta increase my entire life. The Delta is so polluted that it is now unsafe to eat more than one fish a month. Who decides which communities are to be sacrificed? Which fish? The Delta has been violated, raped. There is another way.”

Tim Stroshane, Delta Water Policy Expert:
“We find state and federal water agencies guilty of promoting a tunnel project that would enlarge harm to the beleaguered Delta. These difficulties arise because water is being treated as a commodity, which a water industry seeks to profit from.”

Gary Mulcahy, Winnemem Wintu tribe:
“The rights of nature have been inherent from the beginning of time. We need to get rid of the concept of dominion over the Earth. We — the salmon, the water, the trees, the spiders — are all one thing. The more pieces you take from the whole, the closer you come to becoming extinct. Just like the salmon that my people depended upon.”

At the conclusion of the Tribunal, Linda Sheehan, serving in the role of Prosecutor for the Earth said:
“The rights of people and nature to life-giving water are fundamental rights, and they must be recognized and protected. I urge you to reject the destruction of the Delta and Delta communities, and to call for solutions that respect the laws of nature.”

For more information about this event visit:

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DELTA TUNNELS: US BuRec Confirms US Taxpayers Paying Lion’s Share

For Immediate Release: April 29, 2016

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta, 209-479-2053
Carolee Krieger, California Water Impact Network, 805-969-0824
Conner Everts, Southern CA Watershed Alliance & EWC, 310-804-6615
Tim Sloane, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, 415-561-5080

U.S. Taxpayers Paying Lion’s Share for Delta Tunnels Not Federal Water Contractors
Letter from U.S. BuRec confirms suspicions of conservation groups

Sacramento – In response to a January 25, 2016 letter sent by conservation groups, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director, David G. Murillo has confirmed that federal taxpayers, not the federal water contractors, are footing the bills for the SF Bay-Delta water export tunnels (aka. The Delta Tunnels.)

To date, more than $86.9 million of the costs for the Delta Tunnels have been billed to federal taxpayers.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation letter affirmed the tunnels project is not authorized by Congress and they have no plans to conduct the required feasibility study or pay the construction costs which will more than double the current State Water Project debt to be paid by ratepayers and property taxpayers if permitted.
The Environmental Water Caucus, along with several of its member groups who sought answers regarding this gouging of the federal taxpayers, call on the State Auditor to investigate why state laws requiring federal contractors such as Westlands Water District are shirking their responsibilities to pay for the water export tunnels environmental review.
“State ratepayers and taxpayers are footing the bills along with folks in New Jersey, while Westlands, the largest irrigation district in the nation, funds phony advertising campaigns hiding behind their hard working farm workers, to solicit even more taxpayer dollars to fund this expensive risky tunneling project,” stated Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta. “We are calling on the State Auditor to investigate.”
"As federal investigators probe the California Department of Water Resources overcharges, double billings and $300+ per hour charges to the federal government for the water export tunnels, the Bureau of Reclamation's admission that federal contractors such as Westlands, have not paid their required 50% share of the tunnels in accordance with state law, needs to be investigated," asserted Conner Everts, Executive Director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance and the Environmental Water Caucus. "How have the federal contractors been shirking their duties under state law to pay for the CA WaterFix environmental analysis, while the state contractors (ratepayers) are pouring money into the effort (over $60 million from MWD alone, to date)?"
“In response to our questions, it is clear Congress and the American people are being misled," stated Tim Sloane, PCFFA Executive Director. "While our salmon heritage hangs on the brink of extinction and toxic algae blooms build, funds to protect fish and wildlife and restore the Delta Estuary have been diverted to fund water tunnel export plans to take even more essential fresh water from this critical estuary.”
“The largest irrigation district in the nation which receives 100’s of millions in taxpayer subsidies, Westlands Water District wants the nation to not only give them a permanent water contract for free with virtually no strings as to how they will contain their toxic groundwater pollution, now we find out they have been gaming their responsibility to pay for these expensive tunnels to export even more water to these toxic lands,” explained Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of California Water Impact Network. “Continuing to send more water to irrigate these toxic soils at taxpayer expense makes no sense.”
Notes from the letter from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:
"Due to the State separating the BDCP into two programs and due to the fact that Reclamation does not have construction authority for the new conveyance facilities, Reclamation does not anticipate formally submitting a feasibility report to Congress."
"Currently, there are no plans for Reclamation to fund the construction of California WaterFix, nor provide financial assistance agreements to provide funding for construction."
Funding Under Investigation by DOI Inspector General
The federal grant monies and questions surrounding these federal expenditures are under investigation by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General.

These funds have been spent on the environmental studies –NEPA review—and hired contractors paid by DWR with Federal Grants. These federal grants are under investigation for a variety of reasons—double billing, failing to follow federal procedures such as competitive bidding and questions about “reasonable and prudent” charges among others.

Questions Raised for State Auditor

The Reclamation response to the NGO letter does raise additional questions especially for the State Auditor Elaine Howle for example:   

  1. How have the federal contractors been shirking their duties under state law to pay for the WaterFix environmental analysis, while the state contractors are pouring money into the effort (over $60 million from MWD alone, to date)?
  2. Are Federal CVP Contractors Paying Their 50% for the Tunnels Planning and Environmental Review? The letter confirms federal taxpayers have been billed more than $86.9M for the Delta water export tunnels. 
  3. It appears State Law, California Water Code Section 85089 is being circumvented by Westlands and other federal contractors, Why?

Recall Water Code Section 85089 requires….Construction of a new Delta conveyance facility shall not be initiated until the persons or entities that contract to receive water from the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project or a joint powers authority representing those entities have made arrangements or entered into contracts to pay for both of the following:
   (a) The costs of the environmental review, planning, design,….


Finding Primo: The Delta Smelt – Our first coloring book!

Happy ‪‎Earth Day‬! Here’s our first page preview of our draft 5 page coloring book “Finding Primo: The Delta Smelt.” We will be giving these out this weekend at Stockton Earth Day, Stockton Ports Delta Awareness Night game, & the Bay Area Rights of Nature Tribunal on April 30th! RSVP for the Tribunal here:

Pg 1 Coloring Book - rs

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Delta Flows: April 22, 2016

featured image delta flows april 22

by Tim Stroshane

I recently read an ostensibly scientific paper with the impressive title, “Economic and Water Supply Effects of Ending Groundwater Overdraft in California’s Central Valley” by several researchers led by Jay Lund, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis, and a researcher with the Public Policy Institute of California.

The study was disappointing, and short on good science. Sadly, the Lund team’s results are often more “truthy” than complete.

In 2014, the “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act” became law in California. This bill requires every groundwater basin in the state to get on a path toward sustainable groundwater management and usage by 2040, and to have a plan in place by 2020 or 2022, depending on where you are. According to Lund’s research team, the Central Valley’s groundwater overdraft stands at about 1.2 million acre-feet per year. That’s about 391 billion gallons of water withdrawn every year from underground, without getting replaced.

Their study was about how to eventually eliminate that 1.2 million acre-feet of overdraft.

The bottom line for the Lund team is that 23 percent of the eliminated overdraft will come from “lost groundwater pumping and reduced agricultural water use” (that is from actual hardship by, mainly, San Joaquin Valley farmers), while the other 77 percent of the ended overdraft will be made up via “increased recharge” and “decreased Delta outflow” comprised of “increased Delta exports and upstream diversions.”

This means that other regions of California like the Delta and the Sacramento Valley would “pay” for the San Joaquin Valley’s debt to nature. (See Figure 10 for their breakdown of the sources of overdraft reduction.)

The cost of ending overdraft statewide, their study estimated, would be at least $50 million per year.

That may sound like a lot of money until you put it in perspective. It would be a water cost of about $41 per acre-foot ($50 million divided by 1.2 million acre-feet), which seems very affordable compared with the Governor’s Tunnels project, which would cost somewhere between $700 to $1500 per acre-foot (depending on whom you ask). With about 60,000 farms in the Central Valley, that’s a cost of ending groundwater overdraft of about $833 per farm per year, assuming all farmers pitch in. (Isn’t that about what some people pay for a year of basic cable?)

So, either this is a tempest in a teapot, or the Lund team’s study has flaws. Or maybe both.

Silences abound in this study. The Lund team’s study results were aimed at an audience of state and federal water contractors, though this purpose is not disclosed.

While it is common practice for many top-flight scientific research publications to disclose the researchers’ funding sources, no such disclosure is found in the Lund team’s acknowledgements.

The Lund team is deafeningly silent about how Tunnels conveyance would facilitate the end of groundwater overdraft. Certainly, the Tunnels would ease connection of Sacramento Valley flows and Delta exports via water market transfers, for the sake of offsetting long-term San Joaquin Valley water mismanagement. Such deals would redirect impacts of ending the southern valley’s groundwater overdraft to the rest of the Central Valley.

Usually, careful and caring researchers disclose early in the paper the strengths and weaknesses of their method and approach. The Lund team buries their model’s limitations at the end of “Discussion”, page 16, rather than present them up front in the methods and assumptions section.

The Lund team misses an obvious reality that farm land retirement would likely reduce agricultural water demand in the future. Such retirement may be voluntary (due to water cost) or involuntary (due to salinization or climate change). But the Lund team ignores this likelihood altogether.

A more relevant and useful research priority would have been to consider keeping water in reservoirs for temperature control and water quality for both upstream protection of salmonid spawning habitat and migration corridors, and Delta estuary protection in the face of climate change—all while reducing Delta exports. What would be the long-term economic benefits of recovering these fish populations and the recreational and commercial fishing industries they support? (Just silence.)

The team concludes with a sense of faux realpolitik that “even if it is not politically and environmentally feasible to provide such substantial shifting of Delta outflows to accommodate ending groundwater overdraft, these results show that substantial pressure to increase (and not reduce) Delta exports is a likely result of recent state legislation on groundwater sustainability.” (p. 16)

Why is it logical, let alone necessary, that San Joaquin Valley farmers might shoulder just one quarter of the responsibility for ending overdraft that they themselves were fully responsible for creating?

Since insanity is when you keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, perhaps it’s time to try a regional self-sufficiency approach to end groundwater overdraft.