By Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore The Delta
Ten years ago, I was hired to bring together an unruly, but always entertaining, coalition of fishermen, farmers, conservationists, and residents to defend a place most Californians would have a hard time finding on a map — The San Francisco Bay Delta estuary.
Little did I know that job would evolve into the fight of my lifetime, generating international media coverage and mobilizing tens of thousands of activists statewide to protect the Delta.
I had to laugh on October 29, 2015 when a press release arrived in my email from the Stewart Resnick-sponsored astroturf group Californians for Water Security. The press release boasted, “More than 12,000 Individuals and Groups Send Letters of Support for Governor’s California Water Fix During Comment Period.”
Little did they know that the very next day our incredible coalition of activists would submit more than 30,000 letters AGAINST the Delta Tunnels. And we did it with a grassroots campaign largely fueled by social media, shoe leather, and the hard work of a few remarkable young staff that I am so honored to work with each day.
On October 30, 2015, on the steps of the State Capitol just steps away from the Governor’s Office, our coalition held a press conference to announce our campaign’s amazing victory to the assembled media.
Here is what I told them:
Today we are proud to announce that 30,000 Californians, from every background, have submitted public comments against the Delta Tunnels! Over 11,000 have signed our petition letter at Restore the Delta, and thousands of additional Restore the Delta supporters sent in their own comments. Our partners at Earthjustice, Sierra Club California, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the River, Food and Water Watch, SalmonAid, Earth Law Center, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, and the Environmental Water Caucus have sent in over 20,000 additional comments.
Moreover the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, the Delta Chamber of Commerce, and the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, representing thousands of Delta area businesses, have also submitted public comments against the tunnels.
All of this has happened before the close of business today when Bay-Delta water districts, government agencies, and science-base environmental NGO’s will submit thousands of pages of detailed, substantive comments in strong opposition to the Delta Tunnels plan. You will be able to check back at our website starting this afternoon through next week as we gather and post these comments.
All of this opposition is in stark contrast to the 12,000 signatures gathered by Californians for Water Security, the marketing arm of special interests, working on behalf of California Water (no) Fix. This was the best that they could do after running a year-long misinformation campaign to confuse California residents between fixing leaky pipes in urban areas and supporting the Delta tunnels project. In fact, we have heard from numerous supporters and organizations who signed on as supporters to Californians for Water Security that they had no idea that they were supporting the tunnels project.
Californians for Water Security resorted to dishonest tactics because as we learned reading the 48,000 pages of EIR/S documents – the Delta tunnels fails to meet standards set by law, economics and science.
The project has been sold to the media and the public time and time again as securing water supply reliability while restoring the Delta environment. Yet climate change modeling tells us that there will be less and less water in the Sacramento watershed. In fact, the tunnels will be dry at least 52% of the time. Southern California will not receive any additional water. The story being fed to their rate payers that these new straws will make their water supply more reliable is simply not true.
Their own documents tell us that we will lose winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and steelhead. Greater Sandhill Cranes, box turtles, giant garter snakes, and numerous other species will end up extinct or severely threatened. The project is not permissible under the Endangered Species Act because of impacts to habitat, water temperatures and water quality.
Their own document tells us that the project fails to meet standards as set by the Clean Water Act for health and human safety. Water for human uses will be denigrated with increases in Grade A pesticides, which are human carcinogens, Selenium, Bromides, Salt, Mercury, Boron, and toxic algal blooms.
Even more interesting is what we found in the draft response comments to the project written by the Kern County Water Agency home to Paramount Farms– the initial backers and creators of Californians for Water Security. Kern County Water Agency expects unlimited water supplies, particularly in the spring, despite the needs of fisheries, even if it violates the federal Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts. They expect zero constraints on water exports, and all water available for export for the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, each spring, for the first ten years of operations. Their demands are clear: Proposition 1 money is to be used for water purchases (never mind that Brown Administration officials promised Californians that Prop 1 money would not be used to purchase flows for the tunnels).
So to sum it up, Governor Brown, the people of California are not convinced. We have done our homework; we read the 48,000 pages you told us to when you told us to “Shut Up.” We have read what the water takers want. We do not want to spend $60 billion to export more water from the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary to the top one-percent of big industrial growers and special interest water districts. We do not want a project that does not meet Clean Water Act or Endangered Species Act standards. We do not want a project that will decimate our regional economy.
What we do want is sustainable solutions to California’s water challenges based on recycling, conservation, stormwater capture, groundwater recharge, and local water projects that create jobs.
I wanted to thank all of you grassroots Delta activists from Northern and Southern California who joined our fight to protect the true heart of California, the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary.
Stay tuned to the next phase of this campaign. This fight is far from over. But for now, take a moment to congratulate yourselves for a job well done.
North Delta CARES note: Thanks to Bob Light of the River News Herald for another great cartoon!