Delta Stewardship Council is flooded – with opposition

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by Gene Beley, Delta Correspondent, Central Valley Business Times

BRENTWOOD, March 26, 2017

  • A sea of people protest a move to automatically accept the governor’s twin tunnels
  • “Give people hope this is not a kangaroo court”

What if you held a meeting with the traditional public comments and more than 400 people showed up with 37 prepared to speak on one controversial item – the twin water tunnels beneath the California Delta that are being pushed by the governor?

That’s what happened when the Delta Stewardship Council got caught off guard for their recent meeting at the Brentwood Community Center. When the Save the California Delta Alliance in Discovery Bay learned that the DSC had an agenda item on their calendar for an amendment to automatically favor the twin tunnels alternative, they got more than 400 people to appear at the meeting.

After two rooms were turned into one and more chairs brought in, DSC Chairman Randy Fiorini moved up the agenda item. So after some discussion from the DSC staff, the meeting was opened up to a very long line of speakers who vented their tunnel objections that ranged from moms wanting clean water for their children to swim in the Delta to Frank Morgan telling the DSC the tunnel project would threaten his houseboat cruise business that sees more than 165 cruises a year. He said he just couldn’t deal with the tunnel construction’s big barges and the proposed blocking off of Victoria Slough near Discovery Bay.

“What bothers me,” began Jerry Peach from Discovery Bay, “is if you do this experiment (building the twin tunnels) and, if it doesn’t work, where is the money going to come from to reinstate the Delta before you did this mistake?”

Fresh in mind was the recent near-disaster at Oroville Dam, when 180,000 people had to be evacuated in a few chaotic hours after the dam’s spillway and then its emergency spillway began to fail. Experts have questioned the state’s design of the spillways for more than a decade.

Roger Kelley of Stockton told the DSC that what is needed is to really need to focus on the maintenance of existing water infrastructure before spending money on massive new projects.

The cost of buildings – and financing – the tunnels has been estimated as high as $68 billion.

“We still do not know the cost effectiveness of the tunnels,” said Mr. Kelley, who lives on the Calaveras River in Stockton. “It is still very unclear to me who will pay for the construction, operation and maintenance.”

Tom Gaines, a Bethel Island resident, asked the DSC, “What does their organization name mean? What does Delta Stewardship Council truly mean?

“Do you take a vow to be true stewards and to be honest with us? And with yourselves?” Then he quickly said, “That’s all!” and got loud applause and cheers from his fellow Delta audience people there to protest what seemed to be the fast-tracking of the twin tunnels project.

Julie Claypool used a metaphor of one’s body health to consider the Delta as a body of water and compare it to one’s own body.

“Would you put poison in your own body and clog your arteries so they couldn’t work naturally? People need their bodies to be healthy so you don’t have a heart attack. If you continue to alter our waterways, you could give California a heart attack. In essence, I think it will cause more damage than you can imagine,” she said.

Dan Bacher, editor of Fish Sniffer Magazine and a board member of Water for Fish and California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), asked if any of the DSC members, or anyone in the room, or the world, could point to a single example in world history where a project that has diverted more water out of an estuary or river has resulted in a restoration of that river or estuary.

Mr. Bacher got no reply.

Jory Johnsen from Discovery Bay, said, if they want more water sent to Southern California, simply cover the aquifer that is going down south “because more than 50 percent is lost through evaporation.” He also gave a suggestion of making a shorter tunnel form the Oregon border down to Lake Shasta, “which is like a ghost town for many years.”

“That would keep the Delta clean, the Bay clean, and provide more water to Southern California,” Mr. Johnsen said.

Andrew McHugh of Walnut Creek said he feels the twin tunnels project “is gaining momentum in the wrong direction without scrutiny of public opinion. The systematic way it is being ruled out and the public comments are being put into a black hole show the entire state’s interests are not being served.

“The science behind the two 40’ tunnels is biased and incomplete. They only went back 83 years to establish the basis of your water flow estimates. In addition, your estimate did not include external drought or climate change effects on our snow pack and rising oceans,” he said.

“How does our water flow today compared with your projections that you inaccurately paraded out to the public? Where is your cost benefit analysis? Why do you hide the public workshops? This conveyance tunnel project does not create a single drop of new water. It does not create any storage capabilities. It does not address water consumption in any way. It doesn’t retrofit or alter the Southern gate in any way. It is a reckless way of deceptiveness enough to question its validity.

“If you have to hide the facts with false promises and benefits, you are misleading the public,” Mr. McHugh said.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta in Stockton, agreed with Mr. McHugh that the DSC hasn’t taken enough effort to properly promote where the public meetings are being held to get feedback from local Delta residents and businesses about how they feel about the twin tunnels project or provide alternative solutions. She said there were only three people at the Tracy community meeting and two of them were from her friends of Restore the Delta. “Adequate public notice was not given,” she told the DSC members.

“In addition, you are not holding meetings at the right time of day,” she continued. “You are not putting out releases to newspapers. You aren’t even giving information on the ground to active community groups to track what’s really going on.”

Ms. Barrigan-Parrilla added that in Southern California, her friends there told her the only ones at these community meetings regarding the Delta twin tunnels “alternative” were the state’s own people. “Our experience with the DSC, including litigation we’ve been involved with, is there is a constant misinterpretation of the Delta Reform Act,” she said.

Sean Murphy of Saratoga asked the DSC members, “What is the benefit to the individual Californian for the tunnels versus using the allocated funds for infrastructure for existing improvements and maintenance?”

For an answer, he got silence from the DSC.

A Valuable Alternative Solution or Equal False Hope?

Roger diFate, a retired engineer now living in Discovery Bay who said he did the automation computer modeling for the St. Lawrence Seaway, said he was there to give the DSC “and everyone in the room” an alternative “that everybody is going to fall in love with.” Then he launched into a sales presentation that would be the envy of any sales manager.

He said his alternative would provide 10 or even 100 times the amount of water storage needed to increase California’s economy without building a single tunnel. Then he turned to the audience and asked how many would like to see their PG&E bill lowered in half?

Of course, everyone threw hands in the air and applauded.

“How many people would like to increase the productivity 100 fold in Southern California and give them all the water they need for the next 100 years?” Again, applause.

“Here’s the answer,” said Mr. diFate. “The St. Lawrence Seaway is the largest river estuary in the U.S. It has ocean-going traffic up and down it. I was privileged to do the computer automation on the dam system across the St. Lawrence Seaway. What they did was they built the dam across the St. Lawrence Seaway and put 32 hydroelectric generators in it. They controlled the entire water flow through the St. Lawrence River. They had locks on the end for ocean going vessels to go through the locks and dams.”

However, there is about as much chance as getting the Delta people to embrace that as the tunnels. Boaters in the Delta will fight against any dams that block the waterways or make them stop and go through maize of locks.

(See that portion of the video below when Mr. diFate is speaking showing the dams and locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway.)

For generations, the lure of the Delta is a laid back atmosphere where boaters can roam 1,000 miles of waterways, stopping at various waterfront restaurants and anchor out overnight at places like Mildred Island (which is really a lake after an island was flooded long ago) and has a channel access into it. This is one of the locations the tunnels’ environmental impact report proposes to use as a construction site. If the tunnels start construction, it would be impossible for past authors like Earle Stanley Gardner to hang out in his houseboat on the Delta, writing his Perry Mason TV scripts in the morning and cruising the Delta in the afternoons. The noise of pile drivers alone, muck trucks, and bright lights at night would drive away “river rats” like Gardner.

Who’s Still Confused?

Roger Mammon, a board member and secretary of Restore the Delta, as well as being president of the West Delta chapter of the Striped Bass Association, said he has lived on the Delta for 35 years.

He told the DSC members that when he first arrived and listened to the DSC discuss several issues, he was upset when he heard one of the people say they thought the people in the Delta are confused.

“I don’t think the people in this room are confused at all,” said Mr. Mammon. “Depriving our Delta of its spring quarter flows and needs is confusing because we live here. I’ve walked the Delta for 35 years. Our system is over-drafted. We don’t need any more conveyance out of the Delta. Scientists have proven, studied, and modeled that the Delta flows need to be increased.

Another suggested alternative

Joseph Rizzi, an inventor and president of the Benicia-based company Natural Desalination, said his suggested solution is to utilize the 1.5 miles of levee between Clifton Court Forebay and the West Channel to replace the levee with a fish screen that will stop killing the fish.

“Your goals are supposed to be co-equal goals,” said Mr. Rizzi. “That’s great. Don’t kill any fish. Use my plan here. It’s a very simple one. Just replace the levee with a fish screen.

“No Delta aquatic life should die just to extract water from the Delta. If you don’t kill anything, you can actively get eight million acre feet of water.”

Also, he said the water would flow into Clifton Forebay at half the speed.

“You can be in control,” Mr. Rizzi said. “You have a silver bullet in your hand.” He added, “Right now, if you want to deal with salinity, call me. All of your problems can be fixed if you just listen to the people here who have the answers. I’m an inventor. I want to fix California problems.”

DSC Chairman Fiorini thanked Mr. Rizzi and said his input was “very much appreciated. If you have more comments on the salinity issue, submit it to us in writing.”

Brian Cleaver of Discovery Bay said he feels the state needs to prioritize the values of outdated water rights — like “selling water to private enterprise who resell it for a profit.”

“To much emphasis is placed on over-promising five times as much water that can be supplied,” said Mr. Cleaver. He also advised to “rethink planting crops that require an inordinate amount of water in favor of prime crops that are more efficient in use of water and that can be fallowed in drought times.”

It is doubtful that proposal will get very far. Mr. Fiorini is a walnut and citrus farmer.

Salinity was the most frequently used word of the day next to tunnels. Susan Vinyard of Discovery Bay said her son-in-law grows the “famous Brentwood sweet corn.”

Mrs. Vinyard said salinity brought in from the ocean due to reduced Delta flow if the tunnels are built would affect his crops, the future of his family and my grandchildren.”

Mrs. Vinyard said she was old enough to vote for the first time on Gov. Edmund Gerald Brown Jr.’s first Peripheral Canal when the voters voted it down. Now she realizes that Brown has managed to appoint a majority to the DSC “that will promote the plan started by his father way back in the 1970s.”

“They are just new words and the same plan — send more water southward,” she said. “Again we are saying no. I urge you to reread your plan and remember you are guided by your legislation to protect these unique cultural, recreational natural resources and agricultural values of California.

“Remember, you are mandated to promote options—not just the governor’s conveyance plan.”

Jan McCleery, president of the Save the California Delta Alliance, said the final environmental impact report was rushed through a 30-day review and the answer to the prior comments was provided. However, she said the plan doesn’t have to protect the Delta “as a place.”

“And they don’t have to protect any of the components. So I guess that’s the DSC’s job,” she told the Council. “So please do protect us. We are not a pipeline. We are a place.”

Friends of the River Attorney Bob Wright, who also serves on the Board of Directors for Restore the Delta, said he agreed with Mr. Mammon about not being confused. “What has happened so far is an unsuccessful effort to confuse the people,” said Mr. Wright. He said it appears sometimes the DSC downplays the importance of things like the tunnels amendment, telling people what they are doing is not very important when it is important. Mr. Wright said on March 16 the DSC filed a motion for the “Preparation of the Preferred Alternative,” while underplaying the importance of that to the public.

So he challenged them, if it isn’t important, “take it out of your draft plan and out of your ‘Notice of Preparation.’”

Loud cheering and applause ensued from the audience, but not the DSC members, who kept a poker face.

“Give the people hope this is not a kangaroo court,” said Mr. Wright, “and that you are really going to do the job of developing a comprehensive, long term management plan in the Delta and that you’re not just another sales job pushing the water tunnels.

“Take the tunnels out of your revised plan. Take it out of your Notice of Preparation. Read the book, then do the book report.”

The Readers are Asked to Draw Their Own Conclusions

 

One new member of the DSC, Mike Gatto, an attorney from Los Angeles, and a California Assemblyman from the Burbank-centered 43rd District who serves on several important committees, appeared to spend a lot of his time seemingly ignoring the speakers to continually text on his smart phone. However, here is his written explanation to CVBT:

“I wasn’t ‘texting,’” he said in an email. “I don’t do much of that in general.

“While some take notes on paper, I take notes on my phone. I also was looking up certain terms, which I like to do in real time. For example, a speaker asked us to Google search for a documentary on water that he wanted us to watch. I actually did so, immediately. Other speakers spoke of new technology that enables better fish screens. I checked up on it, immediately.

“I spoke with a few folks who asked about this, and once I explained, they understood there is no difference between a notepad and a phone these days.”

Mr. Gatto is a former assistant speaker pro tempore, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, chairman of the Consumer Protection & Privacy Committee, and chairman of the Utilities & Commerce Committee, and was the author of several pieces of notable legislation, according to Wikipedia. He was also the lead Los Angeles negotiator for the California Water Bond of 2014, securing just under a billion dollars for the Los Angeles region to clean up polluted groundwater aquifers, which were still full despite the California drought so that the region did not need to import so much water from elsewhere, like the Delta.

Mr. Fiorni said all of the written comments will be posted on their website at the link below. He added that the comments received along with three other public meetings, will be incorporated into an updated staff draft.

There are 34 speakers on the video with one person speaking twice for a total of 35 speeches to the DSC.

The next meeting will be April 25 in Sacramento and the STCD in Discovery Bay is already taking about organizing bus transportation to rally their troops again there to lobby against the twin tunnels.