Opposition to CA's Peripheral Tunnel Plans Call on Obama to Intervene, Save Drought Stricken State

Photo by Dan BacherAdvocates for the restoration of Central Valley salmon and the Delta rallied with colorful signs and banners at an intersection surrounded by fields on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, 12 miles west of the town of Firebaugh on Friday, February 14, urging President Obama to not support Governor Jerry Brown's peripheral tunnel plan.

The diverse group of over 60 people — including fishermen, Delta farmers, environmentalists and a Winnemem Wintu Tribe leader — also called on Obama to let federal science officials do their jobs regarding the protection of salmon and Delta fish populations without interference. They also asked the President to support sustainable water policies that balance the needs of fish, wildlife and people. Many of the group traveled from Stockton via a chartered bus and car pools that morning, ending up at the intersection Althea and Oxford roads.

The signs included slogans such as "Fish Need Flows," "Something Is Fishy About BDCP," "Thank You For Not Supporting HR 3924," "Save the Delta, Stop the Tunnels," "Don't Let BDCP Muck Up the Delta," "Dear Obama, Please No Tunnels - Yours Truly the Delta," and "Unsustainable Mega Growers Want California Water." Photos of the event are available at: http://www.indybay.org/newsite...

The Delta advocates, organized by Restore the Delta, and a dozen press vans were waiting for the presidential motorcade to go by to send their message to Obama, but the President instead decided to fly by helicopter to a closed door meeting with a select group of corporate agribusiness interests, state and government officials and local leaders.

Obama, accompanied by Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jim Costa, met with Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Birmingham, General Manager of the Westlands Water District, Jose and Maria Del Bosque, west side agribusiness owners, Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farmworkers Union, and other officials to discuss drought relief.

Obama unveiled a $183 million drought aid package, including $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers; $15 million in targeted conservation assistance for the most extreme and exceptional drought areas; and $5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program assistance to the most drought impacted areas of California to protect vulnerable soils. The package also contains $60 million for food banks to help families that may be economically impacted by the drought and $3 million in Emergency Water Assistance Grants for rural communities experiencing water shortages.

The President didn't invite any Delta residents, leaders of California Indian Tribes, Sacramento Valley or Delta farmers, commercial fishermen and recreational anglers, who have been also dramatically impacted by California's unprecedented drought, to the meeting. However, Restore the Delta and local activists did their best to get their message out to the national, regional and local media gathered there — and were very successful conveying their message to a variety outlets, ranging from NBC News to the Washington Post to Pacifica News.

"It's extremely significant that President Obama is willing to meet with the people down here on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, but not with people on the Delta," said Javier Padilla, the Latino outreach director of Restore the Delta. "I believe that he came here because there are a lot of big money interests here and John Boehner, the House Majority Leader came down to the west side recently."

Michael Tuiimyali, Winnemem Wintu Member and a recent U.C. Berkeley graduate, noted that members of his Tribe and other California Indian Tribes weren't invited to Obama's meeting and tour. He emphasized the importance of salmon and the Delta to the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, a strong opponent of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels.

"The collapse of salmon and the Delta is a threat to our cultural survival," he said. "Our prophecies say that if the salmon go extinct, so will the Winnemem Wintu people. We don't take this prophecy too lightly."

He said the raising of Shasta Dam, a federal plan designed to provide more water to agribusiness interests in conjunction with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels, would "flood our our culture." The widely opposed plan would inundate many of the remaining sites on the McCloud River that weren't flooded when Shasta Dam was completed in the 1940s.

"The dam raise would flood over 30 of our most important sites, including Puberty Rock, the Dance Grounds, Sucker Pool, Childrens' Rock and Wishing Rock," he said. "The dam raise would flooded the old campground where we do our ceremony that is located on the site of an old Winnemem village. There are still lots of artifacts in this area."

He added that the winter-run Chinook salmon native to the McCloud River is an indicator of the entire Delta ecosystem — and without the restoration of the salmon, the whole ecosystem will collapse.

In the morning, Restore the Delta (RTD) held a press conference at the Holiday Inn in Fresno. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, RTD Executive Director, said that President Obama "should not be misled" that the peripheral tunnels are of any value in meeting California's water challenges highlighted by the record drought conditions.

"We implore him not to support this boondoggle that mainly benefits a handful of mega-growers," she said. "The President needs to know where our water is going in order to decide whether to spend billions to continue feeding water buffaloes, or to change direction. Westlands Water District uses the current water scarcity to push the Peripheral Tunnels, but that is the wrong answer. We ask the president to meet with Delta farmers and community leaders as well."

She also said California needs alternatives to the current, failed water policies, which "treat water as though it were a limitless resource."

"California needs to reduce the demand for water, and reduce reliance on the Delta," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "The combination of these demand reduction actions, plus reinforcement of Delta levees, improvement of south Delta fish screens and salvage operations, elimination of harmful water transfers through the Delta, and numerous fish protections, preclude the need for the BDCP twin tunnels."

Jerry Cadagan, Tuolumne County sustainable water policy advocate, told the press conference that west side San Joaquin Valley agribusiness is not the only industry impacted by the drought — that all Californians, including the recreational and fishing industry that depends on healthy Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations, are suffering from record lack of precipitation.

"As the President focuses on the problems of the agricultural industry, we must remember that almost all Californians are in a world of hurt due to the drought," he said. "My county of Tuolumne will run out of water by July for essentials like drinking water if we don't get some relief. Just as the farmers in the Valley provide us with food, so do the fishermen on the coast."

Cadagan stated, "The fishing industry has the same employment and economic problems as the growers of fruits and nuts. There needs to be a better balance in how we allocate our water and relief dollars."

The Delta farm industry contributes $5.2 billion per year to California's economy, while the salmon, crab and other fishing operations that depend upon the health of the Delta contributed another $1.5 billion per year, according to Barrigan-Parrilla. The Delta recreation industry, led by recreational fishing and boating, also provides $750,000 per year to the economy.

Corporate agribusiness on the Valley's west side only contributes less than three-tenths of 1 percent to the state's economy, said Barrigan-Parrilla.

Jay Hubbel, an organizer of Fresnans Against Fracking, highlighted the institutional poverty that corporate agribusiness has perpetuated on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, an area where unemployment averages around 20 percent even in wet years.

"If big agribusiness could bring jobs and prosperity to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, they would have done so already," said Hubble. "My family has been in Fresno since 1959 and the west side has always been synonymous with poverty."

The west side is no doubt a region characterized by institutional poverty. Debra Lopez of Dos Palos, who runs the clothing project for the local Methodist Church, came to the rally to talk to Delta advocates and the media about what the drought will mean to local farmworker families, many of who expect to be unemployed this year if the drought persists.

"Our food bank that gives out food to local families can barely handle the people that it helps now," she pointed out.

Delta resident Rogene Reynolds, the descendent of pioneer Delta farming families, summed up that the construction of tunnels of the tunnels under the BDCP will amount to a "massive transfer of wealth...from the public to corporate interests."

"As we know, in California, water is wealth," she said. "The peripheral tunnels are a massive transfer of that wealth from all of the rest of us to Westlands and Kern billionaires who are growing permanent crops for export."

"The excuse of revitalizing the Delta (under the BDCP) is just political cover for that transfer. The losers in this process will be the California taxpayers, who will fund a massive project to satisfy the greed of a few," Reynolds concluded.

Restore the Delta's solutions to California's water needs:

At the press conference, Restore the Delta urged the governor to adopt these sustainable water policies:

1. Expand and fund statewide water efficiency, recycling, storm water reuse, and demand reduction programs beyond the scale of the current 20/20 program. Make the program mandatory for urban and agricultural users.

2. Retire agricultural land in the San Joaquin Valley that is drainage impaired. These lands are mostly in the Westlands Water District.

3. Reduce exports from the Delta during dry and critically dry water years to the level that will support public health and safety. In normal and above normal water years, limit exports from the Delta to 3 million acre-feet; which provide adequate outflows — in accordance with SWRCB guidelines — and help restore Delta habitat and fisheries.

4. Maintain water quality standards in the estuary and in impaired rivers.

5. Monitor and report statewide groundwater usage.

6. Return the Kern Water Bank to state control, restore the Article 18 urban preference, and restore the original intent of Article 21 surplus water in SWP contracts.

7. Preserve the provisions of state and federal Endangered Species Act, Wild and Scenic River protections, San Joaquin River Settlement, and the Central Valley Project Improvement Act.

8. Revise water rights and contract levels to align with water that is actually available. The state has granted five times the amount of water that is available in a typical year. Rein in "paper water" that now exists.


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