Just after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his opposition to the current Delta Tunnels project today, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Board voted to fund the controversial California WaterFix.
The board voted 28 to 6 in favor of the project, with two board members abstaining. You can view the vote tally here: screenshots.firefox.com/…
The vote directs the powerful water agency to participate in the construction of the tunnels, contribute 26% of funding ($4.3 billion), and go forth with two joint powers authorities (JPAs) one for construction and one for financing.
Before the vote, Jeffrey Kightlinger, MWD’s general manager, emphasized, “This is not intended to be a symbolic vote. This is an action vote. We are ready to act.”
To view MWD’s proposed motions on CA WaterFix, reference item 8.4 on the Oct. 10 board agenda.
As expected, John Laird, Governor Brown’s Natural Resources Secretary, praised the decision. “Metropolitan’s investment will provide water supply reliability for the region’s residents and economy,” said Laird.
Delta Tunnels opponents said they were disappointed with the vote, although not surprised. They vowed to keep fighting the project, one that they say will create no new water while raising water rates and causing great harm to imperiled Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other fish species.
“Food & Water Watch is disappointed by Metropolitan Water District’s vote to allocate more than $4 billion toward a wasteful Delta Tunnels project that would force higher water bills and property taxes on Southern California families,” said Brenna Norton, senior organizer of Food & Water Watch in a statement. “It is unfair to raise rates for a project that will needlessly make Southern California’s water more expensive, while benefiting corporate agribusinesses that grow excessive amounts of almonds and pistachios in the desert for export.”
“We commend Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for opposing the project and a majority of his appointees on the Metropolitan board for voting against it,” said Norton. “They were joined in opposition by representatives from the San Diego County Water Authority and the city of Santa Monica.”
Norton said the tunnels will continue to “face major financial obstacles” as approximately 74% of the initial cost, which does not include interest payments, remains unsecured.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, said that although she anticipated the outcome of the MWD vote some time ago, “we knew that Southern California ratepayers needed to be warned about what this project means for them in terms of higher water rates and no increased reliability.”
“We also knew that we needed to spend time and energy educating Southern Californians about the Delta and our state’s water management, so that’s what we did. MWD may have won the battle, but we know the tunnels will never be built because economics, science, and law will carry us through the permitting processes and litigation, ensuring victory,” she said.
“It is the last gasp of an unsustainable, environmentally destructive way of managing California’s water supply,” she concluded.
Mayor Eric Garcetti declared his opposition to the current twin tunnels project on Tuesday during a speaking engagement at the Sacramento Press Club, stating he preferred just one tunnel.
After the vote, Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate for Consumer Watchdog, said, “Clearly Garcetti needs to be commended for opposing the twin tunnels project as it was originally conceived, but saying you’re just for one tunnel isn’t the solution. This is a way of placating corporate interests while looking like you’re for the ratepayer. It’s pure political theate. Every politican who aspires to higher officies wants to keep the donation spigot open.”
“Two of the Los Angeles MWD board members sold out and voted for the twin tunnels, but the majority voted against these tunnels after having heard the impassioned pleas of the ratepayers and low income residents who would be the most burdened by a project that would bring them no additional water,” she explained.
”This is all about using public dollar for private gain,” Tucker said. “What’s so wonderful about the Wonderful Company grabbing vast quantities of water to grow nuts in a desert for export? Why should we pay for that?”
Tucker noted that Garcetti has received donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars from farming, engineering, and financing companies, including Stewart and Lynda Resnick of The Wonderful Company that makes POM juice. For more information, go to: www.consumerwatchdog.org/…
Before the Metropolitan vote, Delta residents and their allies held signs opposing the project and urging Mayor Garcetti to oppose the Delta Tunnels outside of the Sacramento Press Club event where he was speaking. They were pleased to hear that Garcetti had finally announced his opposition to the project as now conceived, although they said they are as opposed to a single tunnel as to the twin tunnels.
Those holding signs in front of the event included Adam Scow, California Director of Food and Water Watch; Jim Cox of the California Striped Bass Association, West Delta Chapter; Barbara Daly and Wendy Heaton of North Delta Cares; and Juliette Beck of the Sierra Club Yolano Group.
“One tunnel is just as bad as two tunnels,” said Cox.
“The idea of one tunnel is ridiculous, since either way, the project will devastate the Delta,” said Daly.
Now that Metropolitan is financially committed to the project, Barrigan-Parrilla said the focus of tunnels opponents now shifts to the two remaining water districts asked to participate in the Delta Tunnels: Kern County Water Agency and Santa Clara Valley Water District. Kern County Water’s vote on CA WaterFix is scheduled for this Thursday, October 12, while Santa Clara Valley is scheduled to vote next Tuesday, October 17.
She also said the next steps for tunnels opponents include Phase 2 of State Water Resources Control Board hearings, as well as continued litigation on the CEQA case and the validation case.
On September 18, the California Indian Water Commission joined three environmental groups — the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), AquAlliance and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) — in filing a legal challenge to the state validation process that would allow bonds to to be issued to finance the construction of the Delta Tunnels.
A recent landmark 9th Circuit ruling that federally reserved Indian water rights have precedent over all state and federal water rights puts a new twist on how much water there really will be available for the tunnels or any other project — and could put a big wrench in state and federal plants to build the massive 35 mile long tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
“The California Indian Water Commission’s involvement in this filing is about upholding traditional indigenous responsibilities to the lands and waters of California,” said Dr. Don Hankins, President of the federally recognized CIWC. “With this filing, we affirm our commitment to future generations through protection of the lands and waters of this state, and the associated organisms, which we also maintain obligations to.”