Special Report: Lies, more lies and chicanery – your state government at work
by Gene Beley, Delta Correspondent
August 1, 2014
• WITH VIDEO
• Protest carries on without its target in town
• State officials accused of lying about twin tunnels project
• “The people of California need to ask some questions”
(Photo by Gene Beley)
The temperature was 100 degrees on the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento this week but protesters against the mammoth water tunnels scheme that is the heart of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan kept their cool -- by blowing off steam about what they call the “Big Dumb Conveyance Plan” through speeches and waving homemade protest signs.
The target of the protest – Gov. Jerry Brown -- was in Mexico while the rally was on the steps of the Capitol, but Restore the Delta’s Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said, “So?” knowing they will get his people reporting back to him about it as well as the press coverage that keeps the momentum going.
One speaker, Mark Wilson owner of Wilson Vineyards in Courtland, had just started to tell the rally what a “big lie that this has been a really inclusive process,” when the cell phone on his belt buzzed.
“It’s the Governor,” stage-whispered Mr. Wilson jokingly into the public address microphone to the delight of the audience of about 100, many of them holding protest signs such as “Jerry Chicken Brown—Scared to Let the People Vote on the Delta Tunnels.”
Those signs were created by Burt Wilson, 81, who was instrumental in helping Mr. Brown’s peripheral canal scheme be voted down by 30 years ago when Mr. Brown was governor. The scheme was tossed out by a two-thirds majority.
The twin tunnels of the BDCP would do the same thing as the governor’s earlier idea – drain fresh water out of the Sacramento River before it could flow into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and ship it to buyers in the San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.
But this time, there will be no vote of the people. Instead, state bureaucrats who owe their jobs to Mr. Brown will shape approval.
Back to the phone call.
“Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir,” said Mr. Wilson on the cell phone. “I’ll try to do that. You have a good day, too, thank you.”
“The Governor said he wants you people to get off his property and stay off his lawn!” Mr. Wilson told the crowd, which broke into laughter.
“The reason the Capitol lawn is so brown is the water got shipped out (of the Delta) by the end of last fall to fill the reservoirs in Southern California,” said Mr. Wilson. “We have an empty cup. They have a full cup.
“The only thing is, they think we still have a few drops left in our up—and they want it,” continued Mr. Wilson. He then gave the audience standing in the 100-degree heat a short history of what led up to this historic day that ended public comment on the 40,000 page Bay Delta Conservation Plan EIR/EIS that at least some of the speakers actually read.
“The BDCP started as a defacto secret process. It was meant to be finished by the Schwarzenegger administration before northern California and the Delta realized what was going on,” he said. “Some of us found out. They decided to keep all local governments out along with the fishing and boating industry, native American tribes, our state regional water district associations, landowners, state farm bureaus, Delta reclamation districts and on an on. They’ve been excluded and it was not by accident. Let’s just call them the intended victims to be mugged by the process.”
“One of the primary rules of warfare is not to underestimate your enemies,” said Mr. Wilson. “They underestimated you and us as a group.”
He said the BDCP is big government with special interests. “The Delta, northern California and the state’s taxpayers are designed to be the sheep shorn by this process,” he said. “The Blue Ribbon Task Force was designed to produce a report in 2006 to justify the peripheral canal. I listened to the chairman Phil Eisenberg. Both he and Tom Birmingham, manager of the Westlands Water District, in those meetings said more than once, ‘There’s going to be winners and there’s going to be losers.’ That’s the way the process is set up. We’re intended to be the losers.”
He said the water contractors south of the Delta decided they wanted more northern California water and higher quality water. “And they assembled other special interests and politicians that would benefit from their goals and win them support. They designed a top-down process that they thought they could control. It’s kind of like going to a casino where the dealer has all the cards marked. You’re putting your money on the table and the house takes it all.”
He said the BDCP proponents designed their own set of assumptions that they called facts:
• Huge amount of sea level rise.
• Terrible condition of Delta levees.
• Likelihood of earthquakes in the very near future that would take all the levees.
• Multi-million dollar habitat projects that would change history if the contracts could just remove a lot more water.
“Next the water contractors started their secret process behind closed doors,” he said. “The Delta interests got wind of it and started showing up at these work meetings. They tried to kick us out. We refused to leave. They refused to give us any of the working documents because we weren’t signatories to the BDCP.”
He said anti-tunnel forces “got a little wiser” and began using the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Finally the North Delta Water Agency and other Delta interests got onto the steering committee.
“Then guess what happened next? Jerry Brown came into office.”
As the rally audience booed when they heard the governor’s name, he continued:
“That’s when the process went underground and he brought on Jerry Meral … who worked for Brown during the early 1980s to get the first peripheral canal through. They said they would have a new process of openness. That lasted about two weeks. The business end went underground again.”
He told the audience that the water contractors are proposing to raise property taxes on their customers without a vote and to finance bonds for the tunnels.
“There is no finance plan for construction and operation. The reason is the investment doesn’t make financial sense. The truth is they never planned on paying for it in the first place. They planned on having state taxpayers pay for the whole thing. After all the tunnels are called a ‘conservation measure,’” he said.
Others spoke emotionally about the threat to their homes and farms from the construction of the massive tunnels.
Rogene Reynolds, a resident of the South Delta’s Roberts Island and a veteran of the first Peripheral Canal fight and now the BDCP’s twin tunnels battle, told how the BDCP documents call for over 100,000 acres of productive land in the Delta to be acquired for habitat restoration as mitigation for the tunnels.
“The state of California through the authority of the California Water Commission will be able to use the process of eminent domain to condemn Delta lands,” she said.
This brought further boos from the crowd.
“Even worse the cost of this BDCP project is estimated at $8 billion, which according to BDCP proponents, is to be paid for by the general public with state water bonds,” she said. “In addition to the restored habitat, BDCP planners have conservation reserves. Thousands of acres of Delta farms, which will be managed in the habitat, means Delta farmers will be forced to plant — or not to plant crops — based on the opinions of project directors who are trying to create farms for wildlife. Remember, Delta farms are already wildlife friendly.”
“Last and not least,” added Mrs. Reynolds, “the BDCP EIR/EIS states increased salinity in the Delta channels will be one of the unavoidable impacts. This Delta is and always has been a fresh water estuary. That’s why our ancestors settled here. Current and future generations can’t farm with salt water.
“The people of California need to ask some questions,” she said. Here’s how she enumerated them, in her words:
• Why can state water bond funds be used for mitigation that translates to taxpayers paying for putting other taxpayers out of business?
• Is there a better, less expensive way to solve California’s reoccurring water problems?
• Why have we (in the Delta) been disregarded? Shall we condemn our heritage of six generations to an uncertain future of adaptive management? Once farms are destroyed, there will be no going back.
• Why does the BDCP not contain funding for Delta levee improvements? Enhancing channel and levee configurations can be done for less than one-tenth of the cost of [BDCP’s twin tunnels] and has benefits that extend beyond protesting water transportation to protection of Delta farms and cities and a place for habitat, too.
• Why should the Delta end up with water quality inferior to that which is pumped south to users?
• Why should junior water rights holders be allowed to divert the rest of the water from the Delta, leaving our land to salt up and decrease in value and output?
• Do you really accept BDCP’s assurances that the project will be operated according to regulations?
“Look at what’s happened in the current drought,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “The first thing to go out the window was the South Delta water quality standards. The answer to all of the whys is simple. The state and Federal Bureau of Reclamation have promised more than the Delta can deliver. The tunnels are the straw into every river in the Sacramento-San Joaquin system. The result is a sham greenwash water transfer project hiding behind conservation.”
Why people soldier on over love of the Delta
Many farmers say, when the BDCP and Department of Water Resources representatives have come to their properties they are treated like dirt and just a spec on the map. Anna Swenson from North Delta CARES in Clarksburg, wanted to make sure everyone knows more about her beloved community and area.
“We have wildlife, fish, and the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. We have recreation, community, churches, libraries, neighbors, friendship, and relationships with our farmers, relationships with our soil,” she said. “We know where our produce comes from because we see it growing next to us every single day. We have wineries. We have tourists. We have fire stations with volunteer fire fighters who come at the drop of a hat to help us. We have fairs. We have festivals. We have schools.
“And we have the beginning of the California history. We have been there since 1849. Our community of Clarksburg is the type of place if someone gets sick and they need to go into a care home, they get to go home because our friends and neighbors wrap their arms around our fellow community members. We take care of them and make sure that they are fed, safe, and get to rehabilitate in their own home. That happens over and over again because we are a community.
“Unlike what the BDCP says, we are a flourishing area. No one from the DWR knows what’s in the Delta because they didn’t even bother to accurately record what’s there. We the people want to see Delta resiliency come from allowing the water to flow. We have a right to farm. We have the right to live. All we want to do is let us farm and grow your food.”
She went on to say that community is created through history and time. “This is not about farm versus farm. This is about what makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to take 100,000 acres of historic farmland in the Delta with the best, most prime soil in the world and forsake it for soil that is sub-par,” Mrs. Swenson said.
“The BDCP process is a take permit. It is a take permit to take the water, land, wildlife and fish. We do not get to vote on it. Only the water agencies get to vote. The only thing they look at is how much is it going to hurt us? They even get to take it for fracking and that is wrong.”
Mrs. Swenson said the BDCP EIR/EIS is flawed in many ways. And she pointed out that if one does not own a computer to read it off the web and requests a copy, the cost is $6,000. Nor is it printed in Spanish or other languages.
“You can’t pay us to leave,” Mrs. Swenson said. Yet she admitted the sucking of fresh water out of the Delta by the tunnels will force people to leave their homes in the area from Clarksburg through Courtland, Hood and Walnut Grove due to the lack of water. Homeowners will also be driven out by the 24/7 noise from pile drivers, muck trucks, and other construction activities. “Please talk to your local politicians,” she urged. “Please help our communities. We need you.”
An attorney speaks
“There are many mistakes in this (BDCP EIR/EIS) document,” said another speaker, water attorney specialist Michael Jackson, who represents such non-profit organizations as the California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance, California Water Impact Network, AquAlliance, and others. “This review did reaffirm some conclusions are simply continuations of the big lies that built the original State Water Project,” he said. “One of the biggest lies is that there is now enough water for the tunnels.”
Mr. Jackson said that back in 1960 when the DWR issued its plan for the State Water Project, they indicated they would only be able to get three million acre feet of water by 1981 if they didn’t get the north coast rivers tied into the project.
Ronald Reagan, when he was governor, took the north coast rivers off the table for environmental reasons. The people of the Sacramento Valley and upstream were worried, so the concept of “area of origin” started.
“It is a lie that is reflected by the document that the area of origin will protect us,” Mr. Jackson said. “The way you can tell that by evidence is the State Water Resources Control Board at the instigation of DWR and Southern California water users, are about to launch an attack on Delta farming, claiming they are taking State Project water. All of the promises in history were that they (Southern California) would not take one drop of water that was needed in Northern California. They also made clear in this document that the Delta Protection Act is simply words. They don’t think it can be enforced. They don’t intend to enforce it. They don’t care about the environment to the Delta because they have a magic bullet again this time — habitat restoration can replace outflow. There will be no outflow to speak of past the new twin tunnels. When you take 2.5 million acre feet, which is the paper water, and make it actual, you end up doing grave damage to everything downstream. You’re not going to have water quality to farm or for fish.”
“One of the big lies is that they give a damn about any fish.” He said to audience applause. “What they (Fish and Game) are doing today is exterminating Delta smelt because it is in the way of the pumps. If they have to release outflow for fish below, the tunnels die. If they can kill the fish before then, the tunnels live.”
Comments from Bill Jennings
Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance was sick the day of the rally. So Mr. Jackson read his comments.
Mr. Jennings called the BDCP EIR “junk science.” He said when the Department of Fish and Game released the results of their trolling for Delta smelt, “in 141 separate trolls, at 40 locations in the Delta, stretching form Cache Slough to San Pablo Bay, the survey found two Delta smelt — the lowest number in history. We don’t know where the point of no return for the Delta smelt is, but it is close. If there’s anything we’ve learned about California water politics, it’s that money talks. Truth walks.”
Mr. Jennings said truth and facts have no place in BDCPs reality. “Never mind that the BDCP EIR/EIS is confusing, fraud, biased, unsupported, highly speculative, filled with junk science. Never mind that economists say the BDCP doesn’t pencil out and ratepayers and the public purse will have to subsidize it. Never mind that the facts tell us unavoidable impacts will be a disaster for the farmers, fishermen and communities that depend on a healthy estuary. Never mind that common sense tells us you can’t restore a degraded and polluted estuary by stealing another 2.5 million acre feet of water from it. Never mind that history tells us that the proponents are congenital liars. Never mind that the public doesn’t want the tunnels because there will be no vote. It’s not about co-equal goals, fairly allocating scarcity, restoring fisheries, or protecting communities. It’s simply an insidious scheme to steal water from northern California. It’s [the movie] ‘Chinatown’ on steroids.”
Mr. Jennings also said that the Delta’s fisheries, farms, communities and future prosperity must not be destroyed just to “enrich a South Valley industrial agriculture that comprises 0.3 of 1 percent of our state economy and is predicated upon embezzled water subsidies, unrestricted pollution, and subsidence wages.
“We will fight. We’ll fight this scheme in the arena of public opinion. We will find a way to fight at the ballot box.
Then borrowing from Winston Churchill, Mr. Jennings, added, “We will fight on through the channels and sloughs, and in the levees and fields to the very gates of Hell. We shall never surrender and in the end we will prevail.”
There were other attorneys, politicians, and environmentalists who spoke at the Capitol rally. The following are some excerpts from their speeches:
• Esperanza Vielma, a representative of the Environmental Justice Group, was the first one to point out to Restore the Delta that the BDCP did not publish the environmental impact report or the environmental impact statement, a similar document required by the state, in Spanish or other languages.
She said there are over 600,000 limited English speakers in five Delta counties who work farm labor jobs and fish for subsistence. She said her organization has called on the state and federal government to stop the BDCP project immediately and begin an inclusive project since “this is a not a plan of inclusion but exclusion.”
• Conner Everts, executive director for the Southern California Watershed Alliance in Santa Monica said the plan is “water taxation without representation while the Delta dies from lack of fresh water flows.”
“In Southern California, we don’t want your water,” Mr. Everts claimed. “We want to become more water independent and we’re dong that. But we can’t with the agencies saying there’s more water.”
Someone in the crowd hollered out “Desalinate!” Mr. Everts replied, “Desalinization won’t save us from ourselves. It’s just another way of impacting marine life and it would take a large industrial plant every two to three miles on the California coast.
“But what we can do is recycle water. We dump over three million acre-feet of wastewater to the ocean in just southern California. What we can do when it rains — and it will rain again — is capture water. We can reduce our water usage down to the levels of Australia, Spain and Israel have now.”
He concluded by saying the priority should be to help communities throughout California that lack access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water.
Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of the Fishermen’s Associations, said he was at the rally to commend the authors of the BDCP, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Water Resources and their contractors.
“I want to commend them for their sheer audacity and, indeed, their mendacity,” he said. Consider the chutzpah here of advertising the BDCP as habitat conservation plan that is supposed to protect and recover listed species — but not this one. It is going to destroy them. Consider the chutzpah of these proponents preparing a plan that forgot that fish swim. There’s nothing in here for flow. Now perhaps they made a deal with Monsanto to genetically modify the salmon with a gene from a horse with legs and lungs and now these salmon can walk back upstream. Consider the chutzpah of this group for thinking they can get the taxpayers to foot a better portion of the bill for water they are going to take for their own contractors and sell for a profit. That’s pretty amazing.
“Bernie Madoff may be in jail but it is pretty obvious he is being channeled now by the Bureau of Reclamation, and DWR, and we have to tell them today that we are not going to stand for grand theft water.”
• Bob Wright, senior counsel to Friends of the River, Sacramento, said the test of a good project is not to conceal alternatives to the project or suppress independent comments on their own BDCP website, as was done. He said FOR used the force of the Freedom of Information Act to require the BDCP to produce comments that have been posted by Friends of the River on its website. Many of these can now be found at the link at the end of this story.
Mr. Wright said the Environmental Water Caucus prepared an alternative plan that would reduce exports, protect the Delta, and provide adequate supplies of water. It was called the Reduced Exports Plans. “We transmitted that to the government agencies starting in December 2012.”
“The reason they don’t have any alternative like that is this is a deliberate bad faith effort to stack the deck. They made it impossible for organizations to pick out one alternative in the BDCP drafts and say we support that. They put the cart before the horse. It’s a fatal flaw.”
He, too, said the BDCP needs to prepare a new EIR/EIS and have a new public review period. He added, “Large California public works boosters are masters of deception as evidenced in the explosion in costs for the San Francisco Bay Bridge’s new span from $1 billion to $6 billion. That is the same state government we’re talking about today with the contrary information about quality and safety that they (BDCP) suppressed.”
• Chelsea Tu, staff attorney for Center for Biological Diversity said her two main goals are keeping the Delta water in the hands of the public and protecting the Delta’s communities and species.
“The BDCP proponents propose to make up the destruction to fish species by flooding other healthy habitat that endanger wildlife. This includes the burrowing owl, the San Joaquin kit fox, as well as the sandhill cranes. This is a lose-lose situation for fish and land species. We are committed to kill the twin tunnels.”
• Adam Scow, California Director of Food and Water Watch, predicted that history is going to repeat itself. “Jerry Brown wants a little more defeat and we’ll give it to him.” He said he has a new name for Bay Delta Conservation Plan: Billionaire Donors Corrupting Policy.
The photo on one protest banner showed Mr. Brown encased in a heart with Stewart Resnick, billionaire owner of Paramount Farms in Kern County, Fiji Water, Tel-a-Flora Flowers and many other companies under the banner Roll International.
Mr. Scow said the solution is to stop irrigating a toxic desert on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. “We’re going to bring water exports down to responsible, reasonable levels. That is going to be another big fight.”
• Bill Wells, executive director, Delta Chambers of Commerce, pointed to Nestle, which opened a bottling plant in South Sacramento in 2009.
“These companies buy water for $70 an acre-foot. After they bottle it and sell it for $2.4 million an acre-foot. There’s a pretty handsome profit in that."
The SN&R alternative newspaper did an article on Nestlé in their July 24, 2014 issue and added it bottles more than 200,000 gallons of water per day while mere citizens are being threatened up to $500 fines if they wash their car without a shut-off nozzle or the water police find water running on their sidewalks from lawns sprinklers.
Mr. Wells said he is frustrated by the misinformation from the DWR. He thought it was ironic that DWR Director Mark Cowin recently wrote an article in the Tracy newspaper saying there is a lot of misinformation out there on the BDCP twin tunnels.
“Most of the misinformation came from DWR,” said Mr. Wells. He said the hint of how important public relations is to the DWR is the public information director, Nancy Vogel, makes as much salary as Jerry Meral, when he headed up the BDCP. He said one time when he asked a DWR engineer for a few examples of where a successful project exists like they are proposing in the Delta, she said she’d get back to him after returning from vacation.
“That was about three or four years ago, so it must have been a great vacation,” said Mr. Wells. He concluded by saying, “I’m positive we’re going to win and they will not be building any tunnels.”
• Jim Cox, president, California Striped Bass Association said 90 percent of the fish in the Delta fall into the non-native fish category like catfish, large mouth bass and striped bass. “DWR feels these fish aren’t worth saving,” he told the rally audience.
• Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, said he represents about 80 percent of the Delta and emphasized, “The B.D.C.P. is not a conservation plan.” He agrees with many others that he would decimate the Delta.
• Paul Rockwell, freelance writer and columnist, quoted from environmentalist Richard Wilson, who was writing about a historic similar fight about when the government tried to dam the Eel River in 1968: “What is the point of forever providing more water for more people in the South when the only outcome is to attract more people who still want more water? Isn’t it better to stop that now before everything wild and natural is detained or destroyed in a manic effort to keep up? If northern California sent the entire Eel River to southern California as a gift, the growth boosters would not be satisfied because their appetite increases by what it feeds on and the gluttonies are remorseless.”
• State Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D- Sacramento, said, “Nothing less than our water future is at stake in this debate. No gigantic tunnels are going to restore the Delta or assure any more water for southern California. We know that when Californians understand the issues and what’s at stake, they, too, will stand with us.”
• Kathy Miller, Stockton city councilwoman and member of the Delta Protection Commission, said she was speaking as chairman of the San Joaquin County Coalition. “We are a coalition that consists of the county of San Joaquin, every city in our county, the water agencies, the farm bureau, and agricultural community, Business Council and the environmental community, including Restore the Delta. “The BDCP is the wrong plan for California. This plan will devastate the Delta’s ecology, the Delta’s economy, and the Delta’s people that call it home,” she said.
• Caleen Sisk, spiritual leader and chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, McCloud River Watershed, said they are asking that “the Great Creator look down on our hearts and open our minds so we can se the good things and that the good people will wake up to join this effort to protest the waters of not only California but the world. All of the waters are connected. We are asking that Eagle beings and the great wolf come in and help us and be our guides to see good things; to know the right things to say; and be heard when we seek out and write things on paper, when we submit to good people who lead this country will hear us and know what to do. We hope they have the strength to know what needs to be done even in the face of opposition and lead with their heart instead of their pocketbooks.”
Restore the Delta delivered its “Delta coffin” to Mr. Brown’s mailroom. It was filled with 23,000 letters and Rogene Reynolds’ 14,000 signed petitions against the first peripheral canal that she tried to deliver more than 30 years ago, but was kicked out of the Governor’s office without them accepting them—after working very hard to get them, she said.
Mr. Beley’s note to readers:
If you weren’t able to attend the hot rally, you can now kick back and watch it from the cool comfort of your home in this 1 hour, 25 minute video that starts out with the Jonathan Michelsen Band and the Raging Grannies presenting protest songs. Maybe you can even have a party over to watch it. We also ended with the Raging Grannies giving a salute to writer Dan Bacher, editor of Fish Sniffer magazine, for his dedication in uncovering much of the Sacramento behind-the-scenes politics with the twin tunnels and fracking.
Coffin delivery video
Restore the Delta coffin delivered to CA Governor Jerry Brown's mail room July 29, 2014 from Gene Beley on Vimeo.
Video of entire rally
Restore the Delta Capitol Rally July 29, 2014 shines a light on the Jerry "Chicken" Brown no vote B.D.C.P. twin tunnels project from Gene Beley on Vimeo.