Just kidding…….Umm, not really.
By Robert Gammon
Last week, Governor Jerry Brown told critics to “shut up” about his $15 billion plan to build two giant water tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Critics of his plan include numerous environmental groups and the editorial boards of several major newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Sacramento Bee, which have all called on Brown to torpedo his tunnels proposal. A spokesperson later said that the governor was only “kidding,” when he told his critics to clam up. But numerous journalists, including Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, have noted that Brown sure didn’t look like he was kidding when he made the remark to the leaders of several water agencies.
Regardless, it’s clear that Brown was not joking about the substance of what he was saying: that those who oppose the tunnels plan are wrong. The governor argued that state water officials know best because, he said, they have spent “one million hours” studying the tunnels proposal. In short, Brown was essentially saying, “Trust us. We know better.”
Sorry, Governor Brown, but that’s not good enough, especially considering the poor track record your administration has on major projects and environmental issues, and the bogus assurances from state officials to “ignore critics, and trust us, because we know better.” Here are just a few examples:
- State transportation officials repeatedly tried to reassure the public over the past several years that engineering experts were wrong about the shoddy workmanship on the new Bay Bridge and that the $6.4 billion eastern span is perfectly safe. Turns out, the experts were right all along.
The new bridge, as we now know, thanks mostly to the experts and to Chronicle investigative reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken, is riddled with problems — including corrosion issues, broken steel rods, and bad welds. Concerns are legitimate that the new bridge, which was built at great expense to replace the old seismically unsafe one, may be vulnerable to catastrophic failure during a major quake. Even Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, is now calling the bridge the “project from hell.”
- Brown administration officials also told us for years that fracking for oil in California was safe and that calls for a moratorium on the fossil-fuel extraction method were reckless. Of course, we now know definitively that officials within the Brown administration’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources have been allowing oil companies to inject toxic fracking wastewater into underground aquifers that could be needed for drinking water — particularly during the drought.
And if that were not bad enough, there’s this: Scientists with the US Geological Survey have concluded that injecting fracking wastewater into the ground triggers earthquakes. In other words, fracking is anything but safe, and in a seismically active state like California, it’s reckless.
- State regulators also told us repeatedly for years that PG&E’s underground natural gas pipelines were safe — another blatant falsehood, it turns out. Governor Brown himself also told us that we should “trust” Michael Peevey, the then-chair of the California Public Utilities Commission. Later, we found out the truth: Peevey, who was supposed to oversee the regulation of PG&E, was instead secretly colluding with the utility to help it escape accountability and punishment for its pipeline-safety negligence.
In short, Governor Brown, trusting the assurances that state officials “know better” because “they’ve studied the issues longer” is ignoring reality. Californians have every right to be skeptical about practically anything state officials say, especially when it comes to large, expensive public works projects and the state’s ability to pull them off.
Which brings us back to the water tunnels. It’s a devilishly difficult project, involving the construction of two massive, 35-mile-long tunnels underneath the fragile delta. And while state officials may have spent “one million hours” studying this complex plan, there are good reasons to believe it won’t work, and could end up ruining the largest estuary on the West Coast.
The whole idea behind the tunnels is to take freshwater from the Sacramento River before it reaches the delta, and then ship it south to agribusinesses in the San Joaquin Valley and to Southern California residents. That way, the state would be able to avoid the current problem of fish being shredded in massive pumps that suck freshwater out of the delta.
But, as many biologists and environmental groups have noted, taking freshwater before it reaches the delta could make the delta too salty for fish and too salty for residents and farms that depend on the water. In fact, right now, saltwater intrusion is a huge problem because the drought is depriving the delta of freshwater — so huge, the state is building a temporary barrier this month in the delta to prevent it from being destroyed by saltwater from San Francisco Bay.
In other words, the tunnels, if operational right now, could not be used, because they would starve the delta of too much freshwater during the drought.
So, Governor Brown, I’m sure you’ll understand if we and many others intend to ignore your “shut up” comment — and hollow assurances that state officials know better.
Winnemem Wintu speaker responds to Brown’s “Shut Up” comment
Environmental groups and Tribes rally for rivers at Capitol
by Dan Bacher
On May 11, Gary Mulcahy of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe responded to Jerry Brown’s comment during a speech in Sacramento that opponents of the twin tunnels should “Shut Up” unless they had spent a “million hours” on the project like the administration’s staff had.
“The Winnemem Wintu and California Indians have been on these rivers for over 6,000 years, praying for the water and praying for the salmon streams and fisheries all this time,” said Mulcahy at a noon program at California Rivers Day at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Monday. “We know our rivers and salmon and what they need. So Tunnel Vision Brown, until you have been on the rivers for over 6,000 years, Shut Up.”
The Tribe has been fighting for years to stop a federal plan to raise Shasta Dam, a project that would inundate many of the Winnemen Wintu’s remaining sacred sites, and to restore the original run of winter run Chinook salmon, now thriving in New Zealand, to the McCloud River above Lake Shasta.
California Rivers Day 2015 brought together 23 river groups from throughout the state and two Indian Tribes to speak up for rivers and call on state leaders to support “sustainable drought solutions” at noon at the West Steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento.
The noon program that Mulcahy spoke at was preceded by a “Paddle to the Capitol” that arrived at the Tower Bridge public boat dock at 10:30 am.
“The drought is taking a major toll on our rivers—California’s lifeblood,” according to Eric Wesselman, Executive Director of Friends of the River. “In addition to the noon program event at the Capitol, this day included a morning paddle down the Sacramento River to the Capitol, informational booths on the West Steps of the building, and meetings with legislators to promote sustainable drought solutions that protect our rivers.”
Katherine Evatt of the Foothill Conservancy, who also spoke at the noon rally, said, “California rivers matter. It is important that California rivers have a voice in the Legislature. We gathered here today to give California rivers a voice and to tell the Legislature that California rivers matter – and to make sure that they do not lose sight of that in the drought.”
The groups and Tribes released a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Speaker Toni Atkins urging them to take a number of actions:
- Oppose any potential legislative efforts to weaken environmental protections for rivers such as removing Wild & Scenic River protections for the McCloud River, reducing minimum flow standards, or shortcutting the environmental review process for surface storage projects by undercutting the California Environmental Quality Act.
- Oppose AB 1242 (Gray) as it would undermine the Water Board’s authority to require adequate instream flows to protect water quality, fish and wildlife, and aquatic habitat.
- Support SB 226 (Pavley), and expedite implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, especially for critical overdraft basins, to ensure that the limits on surface water sources do not lead to over-pumping of groundwater and the collapse of our aquifers—California’s largest, cheapest, and most environmentally sound reservoirs.
- Support SB 637 (Allen) to provide for the regulation of motorized suction dredge gold mining.
- Support AB 142 (Bigelow) to require the Resources Secretary to study and make a recommendation to the Legislature as to whether 37 miles of the Mokelumne River should be protected in the California Wild & Scenic Rivers System.
- Support SB 555 (Wolk) to take a needed step toward reducing system losses by requiring annual water loss audits and reporting.
- Support AB1, now in the Senate, (Brown) to prohibit a city or county from imposing a fine for a brown lawn or failure to water a lawn during a period for which the Governor has issued a state of emergency due to drought conditions.
The letter also noted that “building massive surface storage projects” will not address the water crisis:
“The Public Policy Institute of California recently reported that the five major surface water storage projects currently under study (including the three most controversial projects – the Shasta Dam raise, Temperance Flat Dam, and Sites Reservoir) will cost roughly $9 billion but increase annual average supplies by just 1 percent. What these projects will do is put the state deeper in debt, delay our pursuit of real solutions, and destroy rivers along with Native American culture, family ranches, and thousands of acres of habitat for wildlife.”
Organizations that participated in the event included the following:
Friends of the River
California Hydropower Reform Coalition
South Yuba River Citizens League
Sacramento River Preservation Trust
California Sport Fishing Protection Alliance
Restore the Delta
New Voices Are Rising
Winnemem Wintu Tribe
American River Conservancy
Delta Kayaking Adventures
Tuolumne River Trust
Mother Lode Adventures
Paddle with Purpose
Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians
Protect American River Canyons
Effie Yeah Nature Center
American River Natural History Association
San Joaquin River Parkway & Conservation Trust
Save the American River Association