Delta Flows: DWR’s inability to take one solid action to protect the Delta

By: Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla

The Department of Water Resources continues to fail in its management of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. From its creation of a long-term water export operations plan based on the inaccurate fake corrupted Trump biological opinions written by former Westlands’ lobbyists, (now being rewritten by Federal agencies), to the voluntary agreements that will short the Delta of even more freshwater flows, to a new version of the Delta tunnel that will list major impacts as outside the project footprint for expediency, DWR consistently fails to put Delta health or communities first.

Case in point: DWR is pursuing an effort to leave the saltwater barrier in place this fall. 

Even though the current permit requires complete removal of the barrier this fall, DWR is continuing to pursue amendments to the permits to leave the barrier in place. A representative from DWR explained the reasons for leaving the barrier in place from a DWR perspective and concerns about the barrier, even though DWR has already written the Army Corps of Engineers to leave the barrier in place.

Here is a report of the DWR analysis with our comments in parenthesis (a bit in the weeds):

• It is very costly to install and remove the barrier, which is a major DWR consideration. (Never mind risk costs to communities and fisheries.)

• There are DWR concerns over high flows and potentially flooding events that the barrier could contribute to. (DWR is looking at triggers. How does looking at triggers protect vulnerable Delta communities should a flood event occur this winter?)

• There are concerns over impediments to fish migration in the Delta.  We understand that DWR has committed to at least a 400 foot wide notch in the barrier beginning in January to ostensibly permit fish migration and boats. (Here’s to hoping fish find the notch. Just another step in DWR’s full Delta fishery eradication plan. Lots of handwringing by DWR without decisive action to save imperiled fisheries. The barrier is nothing more than a device to increase winter exports when the estuary needs flows moving through the Delta into the SF Bay.)

• DWR did make an application to the SWRCB for leaving the barrier in place. (Going back on how this project was explained to the Delta community, barrier removal at the end of October. What else is new?)

• DWR did send a letter to the Corps about this in September – obviously they will have to consult with National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). No responses to date. The DWR plan is to leave it in even though the permit terms call for it to be removed by November. (No outreach to Delta communities for proper community oversight, comment or consideration. Colonial power management of the estuary.)

•Contra Costa Water District has legitimate water quality concerns for their intakes from leaving the barrier in place. (DWR has an obligation to protect drinking water quality for Contra Costa water users.) 

We will keep you all posted as we learn if DWR needs a new 404 permit from the Army Corps (which requires ESA section 7 consultation with Federal agencies), as well as a 401 certification from the SWRCB.

Changing the rules for the barrier is an indicator of how they will change the rules to operate the Delta tunnel for profitability while ignoring impacts on the health of the estuary and its people.

Our deep disappointment with DWR’s leadership regarding Delta protection grows daily. How can the Newsom Administration be so forward thinking on so many issues and allow regressive management of the Delta continue?

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