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Restore the Delta's March 24th Newsletter


Good news, for sure


March 24, 2010 -- On March 15, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Alice Vilardi ruled that the Governor and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) violated the law when they approved 2009 transfers to the Drought Water Bank. 
Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed a "drought emergency" in February 2009 and used that emergency to exempt water transfers to the Drought Water Bank from meeting the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  In April 2009, the Butte Environmental Council (BEC), the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), contested the emergency proclamation as an improper use of CEQA's emergency provisions,
This month, Judge Vilardi agreed, finding that the Governor failed to declare "that there was a disaster, or identify a specific geographically described disaster-stricken area" as California law requires.  The judge found no evidence of a sudden, unexpected occurrence involving imminent danger or demanding immediate action "to prevent or mitigate loss of or damage to life, health, property, or essential public services." Possible consequences were "months or years in the future." The Governor's proclamation didn't waive CEQA requirements and actually directed DWR to protect the environment. 
This decision will change the way DWR, the State Water Board, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can use the Drought Water Bank for transfers in the future
Good news, sort of
The special panel of scientists assembled by the National Research Council at the request of Senator Feinstein has announced that-surprise!-proposals to reduced Delta water diversions to protect fish are "scientifically justified."  So yes, fish do prefer more water to less water.  This confirms the conclusions reached last year by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in their biological opinions (BiOps) that led to shutting down the pumps for several weeks last summer.
The panel didn't quibble with "whether," but it did quibble with "when," as in "what environmental triggers indicate when diversions should be reduced?"  It will take careful juggling to figure out how to get fish the water they need, when they need it, while still providing water to all the human beings who expect to get their own reliable supply of water from the Delta.  What they need is "reasonable and prudent alternatives" (RPAs).
For example, when is it OK to reverse the flows in Old and Middle rivers?  (Why would it ever be OK to reverse the flows of a river?  Ah, but that isn't a reasonable or prudent question.)
The next task of the panel is to consider other stressors on listed fish and other RPAs.  The report is due next year.  Interestingly, the committee found that it was difficult to do a thorough evaluation partly because there is no good data on how much water is needed to implement solutions.
Bad news, but not a surprise

Governor Schwarzenegger has made his predictably political appointments to the Delta Stewardship Council: Francis Randall "Randy" Fiorini, a Turlock agribusiness owner; Philip Isenberg, a veteran political operative and lobbyist for the Irvine Water District (and chair of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force); Henry "Hank" Nordhoff, a bio-tech corporate executive; and Richard Roos-Collins, director of legal services for the Natural Heritage Institute.  They join the one lone Delta area representative on the Council, Don Nottoli, a member of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, who is automatically on the committee as head of the Delta Protection Commission. The Legislature weighed in with their nominations: former State Senator Patrick Johnston of Stockton (nominated by Senator Steinberg) and Gloria Gray, a former hospital administrator who sits on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (appointed by outgoing Assembly Speaker Karen Bass).
While Patrick Johnston authored the Delta Protection Act, has served honorably on the Delta Protection Commission, and is a joy to work with on other local issues, Johnston said in front of the state legislature this past summer that local Delta advocates were parochial in their view of Delta management.  (We think that the idea think of local input in governance is an American right, and find it disheartening that such a basic ideal of democracy is now labeled by a former elected official as parochial.)  He also indicated in his testimony that arguments about protecting the economic value of the Delta fishing and farming communities were not important because what was driving Delta economic interests was local development.
Unfortunately, retired Senator Johnston's testimony indicates to us that he has little interaction with the thousands of people involved with the Restore the Delta campaign, has little understanding of the $3.5 billion dollar annual Delta family farming community, little appreciation for the multi-billion dollar California recreational and commercial fishing industries, or for the Delta boating and recreation economy - all of which are dependent on good water quality and adequate fresh water quantities.  It will be interesting to see if former State Senator Johnston will represent the interests of the region that he represented in the past, or if his ties to the political industry in Sacramento will completely influence his thinking. 
So there we have it: Delta governance firmly in the hands of people who have no or little appreciation for the Delta and no interest in protecting the region.  Will the Delta be the first California region to be internally colonized by those who want to control California's water supply?
Going with the flow?

Despite its demonstrated inability to do anything right for the Delta, the State Water Resources Control Board is once again earning its keep by listening to experts while trying to thread the needle of political expedience.  This time, the Water Board's task is "To Develop Flow Criteria for the Delta Ecosystem Necessary to Protect Public Trust Resources."
RTD staff attended part of the first of three days of hearings this week.  Questions from the board made it clear that they want to hear about nutrients, contaminants, sediment-- anything except flows that might be affecting fish and habitat in the Delta.  It was also clear that this is all about what we do until we get that peripheral canal up and flowing.
For a great analysis, check out by Mike Taugher an article on the balls the Water Board has dropped over the years at dailydemocrat.com
In our last newsletter, we reported that Greg Zlotnick represented Santa Clara County on the BDCP steering committee, whereas he now actually consults for and represents Westlands Water District and the Metropolitan Water District. And he notes, "your reporting of my comment was/is incorrect.  I pointed out that the statements of Assemblyman Huffman, and Ann's reference to them, were wrong and that the legislation specifically does NOT contemplate reducing reliance on the Delta for current water supplies but rather it says it should not be looked to to meet 'future water supply needs' (emphasis added, § 85021)."   We thank Mr. Zlotnick for calling these errors to our attention, and we apologize for our error.