Delta Flows 5/6/22: The Late Invitation

Restore the Delta wants to share with our supporters this recent communication with the Department of Water Resources about the voluntary agreements.

Date: 5/5/22

Dear Director Nemeth,

Thank you for your email regarding the upcoming voluntary agreement governance meetings.

At this time, Restore the Delta is respectfully declining your invitation. I would like to share a few reasons behind our decision to forego participation.

First, we feel this invitation has come too late within the voluntary agreement process, unless the process started over with representatives from all the impacted parties at the table from the beginning — a redo so to speak. 

Restore the Delta has been asking for a seat at the table since 2019.  We offered you and DWR staff tours. We wrote a report around our concerns regarding climate resiliency that we shared with DWR and the Resources Agency.  We offered extensive comments around the Water Portfolio, HABs issues, DSC processes and planning, and comment letters to the State Water Resources Control Board regarding Delta management in relation to drought and the need for a Bay-Delta Plan, or at least an inclusive voluntary agreement process rooted in equity. We have been quite prolific in communicating our views, concerns, and recommendations.  

Asking our organization to participate with three day notice for the first meeting in a process that is near completion is not an offer rooted in equity. Such a late request, after the bulk of the planning has been completed, diminishes the broader environmental justice and tribal community to a checkbox in order to say such outreach has been completed.

While I am writing only on behalf of Restore the Delta, I am confident in saying that our partners all carry significant and deep expertise in environmental justice and community needs, and all have a fully-developed understanding of water rights law and history, water quality issues, challenges with public access to public trust resources, on the ground climate change impacts, fishery declines, and the relationship between healthy watersheds and cultural/community resources. They, like us, could bring to any broad and transparent public process with water agency officials  a depth of knowledge and willingness to address watershed management issues for a future based on rapid change in our climate. We collectively operate with care for all disadvantaged communities in California and seek to bring balance to a system that too often pits the needs of one troubled community against another. Being asked to consult on a process that is being laid out without our full collective input diminishes the value of our expertise. We are all so much more than a box to check or a photo op.

Second, after learning at the recent salinity workshop that climate change models are built heavily on historic modeling, rather than on an anticipatory understanding of climate change conditions in the present (and forecasting that has determined that at least half our water years going forward will be significantly dry years), Restore the Delta believes that the voluntary agreements are built on an inadequate foundation. It is becoming clearer daily to us that quantitative standards based on unimpaired flow and meeting the best possible water quality conditions given total water conditions is the best way to protect the estuary for future generations, and to protect measurable water supplies for large municipal water districts serving the majority of California’s population. We see too much emphasis being placed in the draft framework on serving unsustainable agricultural interests; we read their meeting minutes from these agricultural water districts and see how they are pushing to gut inconvenient water quality standards for the Delta; and we sense that fear of political reprisals leaves these limited interests in the driver’s seat of California water policy management, while the environment, environmental justice communities, and municipal water users will be left scrambling for the remaining balance of water. 

This view does not mean that Restore the Delta is against all agricultural interests, or that we lack empathy for those with thousands of acres of fallow farmland. We support financial assistance to communities hit hardest by the drought. However, we are reaching the point of a water reckoning in California, and the voluntary agreements as proposed will not see California through that process. We are no longer a frontier state, and we can no longer manage our water supply through that identity.

In collaboration processes with government agencies, tribes, environmental justice groups, community groups, civic organizations, and even larger environmental NGOs do not hold the balance of power. The government does. When government fails to operate, with what one of my colleague’s calls “radical hospitality,” that imbalance in power cannot be corrected. We note that throughout water planning processes in California the interests which hold the real power never show up because they know their interests are covered by government officials. The most impacted parties are also never present because they are too busy struggling to survive. The only true buttress for the disempowered are groups that work in civic engagement on their behalf.  When we are not included fully as partners in the process, there is no authentic or meaningful representation for the disempowered and their connection to the natural world, a healthy environment, or public trust resources.

I sincerely hope that we and partner organizations will be included from the inception in future water planning processes so that we can bring our expertise and care to the table so as to reach decisions that serve the interests of the environment, communities/tribes, and everyday Californians.

Sincerely yours,

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla

Restore the Delta

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