Congressional Democrats Call for Brown Administration Official’s Resignation

Written By: Dan Bacher, April 29, 2013

Congressional Democrats Call for Brown Administration Official’s Resignation

On April 25, five Congressional Democrats called for a top Brown Administration official’s immediate resignation after Natural Resources Deputy Director Jerry Meral made a controversial statement that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels is not about restoring the Bay Delta ecosystem.

Responding to the Northern California Representatives, a Natural Resources Agency spokesman Friday defended Meral and dismissed calls for his resignation.

A joint statement from Representatives George Miller, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Doris Matsui and Anna Eshoo said, "Despite repeated Administration assurances to the contrary, Deputy Director Meral acknowledged in a meeting with Northern California stakeholders last week that 'BDCP is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved.'"

"Meral’s statement, if accurately reported, suggests the Brown Administration intends to explicitly violate the established statutory co-equal goals of ecosystem restoration in the Bay-Delta and water reliability throughout the state," according to the Representatives' statement. "This fuels speculation that the Administration’s plan, if unchanged, will devastate the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the communities that rely on it, a concern that Northern California Lawmakers and other stakeholders have voiced throughout the process."

“Director Meral’s comments suggest the Brown Administration has violated the public trust," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (CA-11). "He needs to be held accountable for that. And now the Administration needs to be forthcoming as to whether they intend to honor their stated goal to restore the region’s already struggling habitat, or whether this is simply a water grab which will drive the Bay-Delta to ruin. Based on his comments, Deputy Director Meral should resign immediately."

Meral made his controversial comments while speaking with Tom Stokely of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) in a private conversation after a meeting with Northern California Indian Tribes on Monday, April 15, according to Restore the Delta's "Delta Flows" newsletter (http://www.restorethedelta.org/or-is-it-the-point/)

"I was flabbergasted because that's not what we've been told by politicians and state officials," said Stokely after the conversation. "I was surprised at his candor because I've always known that BDCP is not about restoring the Delta."

"It's therefore ironic that the Brown administration is calling this a Bay Delta Conservation Plan," emphasized Stokely. "You can keep the same acronym, but in reality it's the Bay Delta CONVEYANCE Plan. It is and always has been about moving water, not saving the Delta."

"Now if Governor Brown and State officials would just stop pretending it's a habitat plan to save fish when speaking with the press," according to Restore the Delta (RTD).

"We did not put the statement out for publicity gain or just to try to embarrass somebody," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, RTD Executive Director, who witnessed Meral make the comment. "The reason we let this statement out was to show the true intent of the tunnels project," which she said is to increase pumping Delta water south.

Both Stokely and Barrigan-Parrilla said Meral had been speaking about his concern that a "mega-flood" could inundate the Central Valley someday, as it did in 1861-62, when Meral made his statement.

A spokesman for the Natural Resources Agency, headed by Secretary John Laird, told the LA Times the remarks were “taken out of context” and that there are no plans calling for Meral’s resignation.

“The administration remains deeply committed to maintaining a healthy Delta ecosystem,” said agency spokesman Richard Stapler. “In fact, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan invests $7.5 billion 'to preserve and restore the region.'" (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/political/la-me-pc-jerry-brown-water-jerry-meral-congress-water-bay-delta-20130426,0,6241643.story)

The Governor's Office has not yet responded to my request for a response to the Representatives' call for the Deputy Director's resignation. 

Besides Miller, other Congressional Representatives blasted Meral for claiming that “BDCP is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved."

“While I find the statement made by Dr. Meral to be on its face extremely disappointing, the larger issue I have is with the way the State of California has led the BDCP effort in general," said U.S. Rep. Doris O. Matsui (CA-6). "Despite repeated requests from northern California to have a real role in development of the plan we have continued to be shut out of the process. A project in our backyard of this magnitude simply cannot be done without northern California interests at the table.”

U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (CA-9) said, “The Brown Administration continues to fail the Delta and its residents. We all share a desire to improve the Delta and ensure that the families, farmers, and small business owners in this region are made a part of the process. Director Meral’s statement that the Delta will inevitably be destroyed is unacceptable. There must be accountability, and Delta residents need to know if the Governor is committed to restoring the region. I stand willing and eager to work with the administration to address these needs, but only if they are forthright in their efforts.”

"Deputy Director Meral’s statement is contrary to everything he and his colleagues have told us in the past," said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5). "If BDCP is not about restoring the Delta, then it’s all about shipping water to the south at the expense of our farming families, fishing families, wildlife and the environment. Meral and his friends are trying to rob families of their water and livelihoods. We deserve to have someone committed to protecting the Delta.”

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, quipped that Meral's claim that the "Delta cannot be saved" was "clearly a statement of someone waiting for imminent rapture so it doesn't matter what happens to the Delta."

"We've gone from earthquakes, to ark storms, to we can't save it anyway - it doesn't matter," said Jennings. "Meral's statement is not surprising because nothing that the BDCP has put forth is a credible plan to protect the estuary. Of course the Delta can't be saved if the BDCP is going to take all of the water and ship it south for cotton, pomegramates and pistachios."

Amid calls from California's Congressional delegation for Meral’s resignation, state legislators asked for an immediate halt to all efforts to implement the project to export more Northern California water south under the guise of saving the imperiled Delta. The following statement was signed by Senators Lois Wolk (D-Davis), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett (D-East Bay), and Assembly Members Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Mariko Yamada (D-Davis):

"Recent comments made by the top administrator of the proposed Delta tunnels plan only serve to confirm what many have known for some time, that the poorly named Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is not really designed to save the Delta, but is primarily focused on exporting more water from the North to the South, in clear defiance of the legally mandated co-equal goals that include water supply reliability and Delta restoration, as well as reduced reliance on the Delta. Dr. Meral's comments, made in a rare moment of candor in a remote location, reveal why northern California communities have been locked out of the development of this plan, and why more thoughtful and affordable alternatives have been repeatedly brushed aside.

Dr. Meral told the truth, and while his resignation may be appropriate, the far bigger problem is the BDCP itself, and the rush to push it through without full public review, legislative approval, or oversight by anyone other than the water contractors behind it. Accordingly, we state legislators call for an immediate halt and reassessment of the entire BDCP process. It's time to reassert the proper legislative role in the most significant water project proposal of the 21st century.”

Senator Wolk also issued the following statement in response to a Meral's comment: “This feels like it could be the 47 percent moment for the BDCP, when an off-camera candid comment reveals more about what’s really going on than all the carefully crafted sales pitches before it. The truth always seems to find a way of getting out. And when it comes straight from the leader of the project it carries far more weight than when it comes from a critic like me.”

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