Water prophesies realized four years later

Two recent strong criticisms of the current state of state water politics reminded us of our prophetic article of February 19, 2007, when former Gov. Schwarzenegger (aka "Our Hun") experienced his "Delta Vision" -- "Hun appoints next peripheral canal campaign committee."
-- Badlands Journal editorial board

Hun appoints next peripheral canal campaign committee
Our Hun announced after deadline Friday that he has appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force to develop a "Delta Vision." Badlands editorial staff predicts this is the beginning of the next campaign for a peripheral canal.
The 41 leaders on the task force are a Who's Who of Usual Suspects, chaired by former state Assemblyman Phil Isenberg. Isenberg, who knows everyone in the world but his world doesn't extend beyond the Sacramento city limits, is an interesting choice. Throughout Willie Brown's long speakership in the Assembly, Isenberg, whatever committee chairs he might be sitting in, was Willie's nuts-and-bolts campaign foreman in election years. Isenberg could actually run an effective statewide campaign for a peripheral canal. It is hard to see than he would have any other interest in the Delta beyond having the levees break downstream from Sacramento.
State Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman made the announcement. A Tulare County rancher and agricultural leader, nobody but Our Hun would have appointed him to this position because Chrisman and south Valley leadership like him are responsible for the air and water quality mess down there. Will the visionary Delta peripheral canal somehow modify the San Joaquin River Agreement, reached between the Friant Water Users Authority (largely a Tulare County group) and the Natural Resources Defense Council?
Reading down the list, we find Tom Birmingham, General Manager and General Counsel of the Westlands Water District. Westlands just bought the 3,000-acre Bollibokka fishing club on the McCloud River, just in case the federal government wants to buy it back to raise the level of the Shasta Dam to flood it out. Tom's deal is real simple: as his west side grower customers are bought out by the government because of selenium, salts and other heavy metals, Westlands can sell more federally subsidized water to the Southern California municipal market and to growing communities in the south Valley for real big profits.
It's hard to fault former members of various committees of CAL-FED on the blue ribbon task force. Although water experts predicted nothing would come of that effort from the beginning, it was certainly hampered by the continual opposition of the former Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, chairman of the former House Resources Committee, now known again as the Natural Resources Committee.
Nor do we develop automatic prejudices against notable officials in the Dickensian world of water politicians based on their names, and so we expect enlightenment on Delta issues from Joan Anderson Dym, Executive Director of the Southern California Water Committee. However, we wonder where former Gov. Gray Davis' great water guru, Keith Brackpool, is hiding.
With Randy Fiorini, President of the Association of California Water Agencies and Director of the Turlock-Modesto Irrigation District, we appear to be wandering in the darkness of Hun Flak. There is no such thing as the T-MID. He appears to be a director of the Turlock Irrigation District. However, ACWA is a well-known promoter of any dam project.
Ditto: Tony Francois, Director of Water Resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Tom Hurlbutt, Water Advisor for J.G. Boswell Co., will doubtless have a conservative solution: More water for Boswell; less for the rest.
Zeke Grader, Executive Director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Executive Director of the Institute for Fisheries Resources, is lonely champion of environmental interests among the blue ribbons. Perhaps there are a few others, Jonas Minton for example, but the Hun's Blue Ribbon Task Force is about exploiting water resources and real estate, with a little farming thrown in. It is not about fish, restoration of a Bay or Delta fishery, preservation or enhancement of the Delta and its communities as they are. We believe it is about recycling a 20-year old bad idea: the peripheral canal. Beyond the millions that will be spent, we cannot predict. But, at least, it is a make-work project for politicians and their consultants. Developers will be unable to refuse the temptation; money will flow; the party will go on. See you at Fat's.
Steve LaMar, Chair of both the Water Resources Subcommittee and the Flood Taskforce for the Building Industry Association, represents interests that would probably welcome a flood and the reconstruction projects to follow, a la Katrina. Build on a flood plain once, rebuild after the next flood. It just makes good dollars and cents. How would the BIA come down on a peripheral canal? Developers would approve a canal that would take flood pressure off the Delta. They could fill up the whole flood-plagued area with gated communities and ranchettes surrounded by brackish, stagnant sloughs unfit for a carp. Vista de la Ultima Carpa Estates!
David Shabazian, Senior Planner, Sacramento Area Council of Governments; project manager of SACOG's intelligent-transportation systems integrating regional systems with Caltrans, appears to represent smart growth and perhaps believes he does. Actually, all he represents is northern California's most successful regional lobby for federal highway funds -- with a lot of pretensions thrown in to confuse the public. The proof his SACOG's pudding is Roseville.
Adding a van Loben Sels to the task force adds a touch of history. The family had a dairy on the Delta, wiped out before most of the now-crumbling levees were built. A witness to that event once described the view of an entire herd of dairy cows floating down a flooding river, feet up, c. 1905.
But, with the appointment of Steve Johnson, Director of Strategic Initiatives for The Nature Conservancy, California Chapter; and member of the CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee, we leave the realm of possibility and enter the realm of corporate eco-sleeze. UC Merced is still digging itself out from under the famous conservation easements Johnson purchased for it, using state funds but not adhering to state easement standards. The Nature Conservancy's ace environmental slut boy's collaborator, Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, is reported trying to get a off-shore job in the administration of a Hawaian university, while the Merced public wonders when the state is going to begin to call the UC Merced easement mess by its name: fraud against California taxpayers. In this activity, Johnson and the Chancellor were enabled at every step by Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, in the state Assembly at the time before advancing to Congress. Other participants in the deal were former Gov. Gray Davis and numerous officials in the state Department of Resources. Throughout the process of siting the greatest growth-inducing project in the history of Merced, both the law and the endangered species it is meant to protect were the victims and the tools of a "win-win, public-private partnership" that enriched a few large landowners at the expense of state taxpayers and while appearing to satisfy some of the natural resources mitigation for the UC project, built in the middle of the densest fields of vernal pools in the state, probably in the nation. However, by definition, this is really not what happened, because as all right-thinking, educated people know, the University of California is always right and good. Our Hun might regard Johnson as just the man to handle the mitigation for the environmental impacts of a peripheral canal, particularly since it would doubtless pass through vernal pool territory. Unfortunately, a peripheral canal doesn't enjoy the high, if unreflective public opinion enjoyed by UC. On the other hand, water in California is related to life and wealth; while UC is associated with weapons of mass destruction and escalating tuition.
To end on an upbeat note, however, we notice that there is a member of the task force with a background in environmental economics, Spreck Rosekrans, Senior Analyst for Environmental Defense, specializing in land, water and wildlife and electric utility issues. A UC math graduate, Rosenkrans may be able to crunch a few numbers with the boys and girls from the "real world" of finance and real estate. Who knows, maybe "inevitable growth" is prohibitively expensive.
There are key people missing from the Blue Ribbon Task Force. They are missing because they are effective advocates for the Delta ecology, they know what they are talking about, they have extensive records, and they file lawsuits to protect the Delta rather than to plunder it.
Older Californians hark back to the day when such task forces and commissions seemed to work better. Some are even aged enough to remember when the Public Utilities Commission was an effective agency. It may be a problem of scale. Our state Legislature, for example, was designed to adequately represent about 10-15 million people. Now it badly represents 37 million people with a term-limited Legislature of the same size. Meanwhile, lobbyists are neither termed nor limited in number. But maybe when we reach 50 million people, things will all even out if we get that technological black box that will restore representative government. Democracy is just another business, isn't it?
Badlands Journal editorial board
Dan Bacher: Brown appoints Gerald Meral to head Delta planning program...Dan Bacher

Jan. 21, 2011 - Governor Jerry Brown has appointed Gerald Meral, a long time supporter of the peripheral canal/tunnel on the California Delta, as the Deputy Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency in charge of the Bay Delta Conservation Planning and Funding program. He was sworn in on January 20.
Meral served as deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources from 1975 to 1983 under Governor Brown - and pushed for the construction of canal, in spite of strong opposition by fishing groups, environmentalists and Delta residents. The proposition to build the canal was defeated by an overwhelming vote of the California public in November 1982.
Dr. Meral is a well-known speaker and lecturer on environmental issues, according to Sandy Cooney, Deputy Secretary for Communications of the Natural Resources Agency. He served as the executive director of the Planning and Conservation League from 1983 to 2003.
Meral was a director of the western water program of the Environmental Defense Fund from 1971 to 1975. Dr. Meral holds a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Michigan. He lives in Inverness, Calif. with his wife Barbara.
Meral's appointment received mixed reviews from fishermen and environmentalists. Elizabeth "Izzy" Martin, CEO of the Sierra Fund, praised the appointment of Meral, who served as a board member of her organization until his appointment.
"Jerry Meral is one of the most visionary, hard working and practical environmentalists in California," said Martin. "His knowledge of the complex legal, scientific, cultural and economic issues that shape the Bay Delta will be crucial to helping the state struggle with long term sustainability issues that must be solved to secure a safe water supply over the long term for all Californians. We will miss his expertise on our Board, but wish him well in this challenging new appointment."
On the other hand, Bill Jennings, chairman/executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), criticized the appointment.
"By choosing Meral, Brown appointed a long time cheerleader for the peripheral canal as the deputy director in charge of the effort to push the canal through," said Jennings. "Dr. Meral will be confronted with the same problems and morasse that his predecessors faced."
"If the canal is built, it will turn the Delta into a cesspool and send the remnants of Delta fisheries to the scaffold," Jennings noted.
Jennings did point out one difference with Meral and his predecessors in the Schwarzenegger administration. "We can disagree with Jerry, but we can still talk with him," said Jennings.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger initiated the Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) processes to build a peripheral canal and new dams to facilitate the export of more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to corporate agribusiness and southern California. A coalition of Tribes, environmentalists, fishermen, family farmers and Delta residents oppose the construction of the canal because they fear it will lead to the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other imperiled fish populations.
San Francisco Chronicle

Playing God…Dr. Peter Gleick, President, Pacific Institute
In a desperate attempt to make it easier to solve California's complex and contentious water problems, a dangerous new idea has recently been floated -- intentionally letting some species go extinct rather than take the difficult steps needed to save them and their ecosystems. This idea should be quashed, smothered, strangled, and quickly tossed in the dumpster of failed ideas.
The first hint of this appeared earlier in February in the 52-page study released by the Delta Stewardship Council. That report argued that it was possible that some species of fish might be so devastated already and their ecosystems so ruined that they were unlikely to survive even with significant efforts to save them. This, of course, is an argument long made in private by some agricultural and urban interests unwilling to accept the difficult strategies to save endangered and threatened species because it might cost them water.
Then, just this week, the argument for explicitly permitting extinction was described in the newly released water report from the Public Policy Institute of California. They are stunningly blunt, calling for the state to consider practicing "endangered species triage," intentionally permitting a species to go extinct if an argument can be made that it will somehow help other species survive -- a very strange concept to ecologists who look at the health of overall systems. This is, however, not really an argument about letting one species die off to save other species: their argument hides the real driver behind the destruction of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems -- economic competition for water. Any species can be saved if we are willing to spend the money and put in place the policies to do so -- such efforts just come at an economic cost. PPIC acknowledges this driver deep in their report (on page 412) when they say: "The condition of native fish populations has continued to deteriorate, despite decades of well-intentioned but insufficient and poorly coordinated policies to protect them. Efforts to stop these declines now threaten the reliability of water supplies and flood management projects."
That's the real point: now that serious efforts are finally being made to tackle the real threats driving Delta fish species to extinction, economic interests are being threatened and fighting back. The delta smelt is not being driven to extinction by conflicting priorities among other species of threatened fish. It is being driven to extinction by policies around human withdrawals and uses of water for economic gain. The idea of endangered species "triage" is simply a wedge in the door to permit species to go extinct when the policies to protect them cause hardship for special interests.
There are those who believe that killing off a species of animal, or bird, or fish in the name of economic gain is reasonable, including legislators trying to weaken or destroy the Endangered Species Act. To me this is a moral, ethical, and political outrage. Moreover, it is a infinitely dangerous idea, since once we start down that road, where do we stop? Who gets to play God? If condemning the delta smelt or coho salmon to extinction in return for a few hundred thousand acre-feet of water to grow alfalfa, or cotton, or almonds is acceptable or to permit more housing in floodplains, why not wipe out the San Joaquin kit fox and the California clapper rail in order to have more development on sensitive lands in the Central Valley and along the edges of San Francisco Bay? And why stop there? If economics rules, then those sperm whales still have lots of great oil in them and killing the last tuna for sushi is just a financial decision.
Endangered species triage? That way madness lies, with no end except spiraling ecological destruction, impoverishment of the environment, a sterile landscape, and the final triumph of money over our souls.
Sacramento Bee

Viewpoints: State Water Plan is a done deal long before 2012 vote… Burt Wilson. Burt Wilson is a member of the forum subcommittee for the 2013 State Water Plan. He lives in Carmichael.
"Fait accompli" is French for an "accomplished fact." It means something already done. For example, when a bill is voted on in a legislative committee, spectators may believe the vote might go either way, but what they don't know is that the bill might be "greased" – already approved in secret before the vote. Thus the vote is a sham, and the outcome is a fait accompli.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was fond of saying, "Nothing happens in politics unless it is supposed to happen" – meaning everything in politics is a fait accompli.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yanked Proposition 18, the State Water Plan Bill, from the November 2010 ballot – supposedly because of its $11 billion cost – and set it for a vote in November 2012, when Californians may find they're voting on a huge fait accompli, because the basic elements of the water plan will already be in place by then.
In 2009, the Legislature passed the Delta Reform Act (SBX 7 1) as one of several bills constituting the State Water Plan. It created the Delta Stewardship Council as a legally constituted body to oversee the Delta Plan, a legally enforceable part of the State Water Code.
Since the council began its work on Feb. 23, 2010, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on planning, science and even implementation of several basic structures necessary to the Delta Plan.
As you are reading this, water agency workers are hacking away at the Delta landscape as if a vote had been taken and the Water Plan passed. Soil tests have been conducted for a huge, planned 40-mile long, 300-foot-deep tunnel. Surveys have been made for a 1,400-foot-wide planned canal. More than $30 million is being appropriated to study the "science" of the Delta.
The huge Freeport intake on the Sacramento River, built ostensibly to settle an old, obscure, water-rights issue, can be easily envisioned to participate with five more planned intakes in pumping more Delta water south.
Did you vote on any of this? No! Where did all this money come from for this planning? When Schwarzenegger axed the Water Plan bill, there already was $12 billion in unspent funds (surprise!) languishing in the water agency's coffers. That's your tax money appropriated by the Legislature. And now it's being spent on facilities and planning that will mesh with the construction of a future "conveyance system" to complete the Water Plan.
Thus when it comes time to vote on the Water Bill in 2012, what will we be voting on? A fait accompli. Although the conveyance systems themselves – a tunnel and/or a canal – will not be built by then, all the studies, plans, science and much of the preliminary planning will already be there. This means there will be a gigantic media message already in place to ask voters to vote for a conveyance system to "complete the plan" – a strong message indeed.
One can envision three scenarios converging on the coming Water Plan vote in November 2012:
1. The voters will approve the conveyance systems, and they will be built.
2. The Water Bill will be defeated and the conveyance systems will still be built.
3. The Water Bill will once again be stricken from the ballot for one reason or another, and the conveyance systems will still be built.
How can this happen? The Delta Stewardship Council, in the release of its recent first draft of the Delta Plan, reminds us it is charged with the "implementation" of the "co-equal goals and objectives" of the Delta, one of which is to "improve the water conveyance system and expand statewide water storage."
This just happens to be the same wording that is part of the State Water Code. The State Water Code is state law – a legal mandate for implementation. Thus, in reality, there doesn't really have to be a vote on the Water Bill, the conveyance systems or the cost. The legal path has been already greased, and the money, when push comes to shove, can simply be appropriated by the Legislature. In short, whether it's a canal or a tunnel, it's all a fait accompli.
The above scenario is all too typical of politics today. It adds up to a stark subversion of the democratic process by the Legislature and state agencies. As voting citizens of the state of California we deserve, and should demand, better.