Delta Flows: The Delta Conveyance Project, From Bad to Worse

We didn’t think it could be possible – that the change from twin tunnels to a single tunnel could net a Delta Conveyance Project that is even worse for the Delta than California WaterFix.  But alas, the Newsom Administration’s rogue agency, the Department of Water Resources, has managed to take a bad idea and make it even worse.

Before we share details of a recent coalition letter explicating how the Delta Conveyance Project fails in the present, let’s linger for a moment on why DWR is a rogue department in California government.
While other boards, agencies, commissions, and government entities, in an attempt to improve equity in outreach are expanding who they bring to the table to deal with Delta planning issues around climate change, water quality, air quality, land use, wildlife, flood planning etc., the Department of Water Resources is leading the Voluntary Agreement process by shutting out Delta environmental justice communities and Northern California Tribes – parties that will be directly impacted by changes in flows through the Delta. This doesn’t gel with Governor Newsom’s other policy efforts to bring equity and opportunity to communities of color throughout California on a broad range of issues. DWR is still managing water resources planning like it’s the 1960’s.

The Department of Water Resources may be the only government entity in the Newsom Administration to cling to bad science created by the Trump Administration so that water exports can be kept at record high levels – despite crashing fisheries, harmful algal bloom proliferation, and worsening water quality during drought. Governor Newsom has called into question the previous administration’s use of bad science on an array of topics, but DWR clings to science written by Trump lobbyists for Delta pumping as if its legitimate.  Why does Governor Newsom allow this to transpire?

The Department of Water Resources feigned “oh, we were caught by surprise” by drought condition this spring as water evaporated or soaked into parched soils, instead of running off into reservoirs. Having sent too much water downstream early in the year, DWR failed to plan for spring drought conditions, despite significant bodies of science indicating that this would happen that had been published over the last 6 to 10 years. How does this match up with the water conservation efforts that Governor Newsom is asking of everyday Californians?

The Department of Water Resources installed a drought barrier, which protects water exports during extreme drought, while worsening water and flow conditions for Delta communities closest to the barrier.  We gave them a pass because it was the lesser of two bad options – allowing salt water to spread further into the Delta.  But now they are working state and federal agencies, looking to leave the barrier in place, further damaging area levees, and increasing the risk for flood and worsening water conditions in the Contra Costa County portion of the Delta – because it’s cheaper for them and the water contractors to leave the barrier in place.  Of course, no broad public outreach has been done to impacted parties. DWR consistently puts the needs of Delta communities last, and Governor Newsom remains silent.

The Department of Water Resources has now delayed public records act responses until December to groups looking for greater detail in regard to the environmental justice survey they conducted through a third party.  They claim that it is difficult to organize the data for 2000 surveys and to protect respondent privacy (we understand the need for privacy).  Requests went into DWR for this data around June.  Frankly, our team of interns could have pulled this data together working part-time in about two weeks using Google Drive and spreadsheets. Why does DWR believe it can delay public oversight?  And why does Governor Newsom allow them to shut out the public?

Turning back to the Delta Conveyance Project, the rogue Department of Water Resources is hiding behind the cover of eliminating some construction impacts (which will still be massive), while planning to push the tunnel further east, impacting significantly large environmental justice communities, while claiming these same communities won’t be impacted by worsening water quality from tunnel operations, or tens of thousands of trucks on the road, or construction dust etc. Their goal is to blame worsening water quality conditions solely on climate change, the same way that they blamed their operational failure to hold enough water back in dams for fisheries and Delta freshening earlier this year.  Yes, climate change impacts on water supplies and operations are real, but this rogue department uses these impacts to cover up their bad operations, rather than stepping up to manage water for the majority of Californians in an inclusive manner. The needs of the big water industry supporting big ag come first. Why does big ag matter more to the Newsom Administration than the elements of environmental justice that they claim to champion?

This coalition letter explains in great detail how DWR’s operational scheme for a single tunnel is worse than what was proposed in WaterFix:  “DWR’s proposed bypass flow criteria for the Delta tunnel is significantly weaker than what was required by the permits for WaterFix.” Their operational plan will significantly increase impacts on endangered and threatened fish species over what was proposed in WaterFix, and decreased flows will worsen condition leading to the expansion of harmful algal blooms in the Delta.

But the Department of Water Resources, as a rogue department, doesn’t have to trouble itself with things like the law, science, equity, or justice. While Governor Newsom declares through the media that environmental justice is a priority for his administration, DWR does what it wants. When will the Governor hold the Department of Water Resources, his rogue department, accountable?

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