The Fish Sniffer - Brown Declares Drought As He Pushes Tunnels and Fracking

Brown Declares Drought As He Pushes Tunnels and Fracking

Written By: Dan Bacher, February 6, 2014

As a crowd of protesters gathered in front of Governor Jerry Brown's San Francisco office to call for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in California, Brown proclaimed a drought State of Emergency and directed state officials to take "all necessary actions" to prepare for the record drought conditions.

“We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” said Governor Brown. “I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible.”

California’s rivers and reservoirs are below their record lows, according to state water officials. Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack’s statewide water content at about 20 percent of normal average for this time of year.

In the State of Emergency declaration spurred by the record drought, Brown directed state officials to assist farmers and communities that are economically impacted by dry conditions and to ensure the state can respond if Californians face drinking water shortages.

Brown also directed state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters and initiated an expanded water conservation public awareness campaign. He asked the state's residents and businesses to reduce water use by 20 percent.

"We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation," said Brown. "Hopefully, it will rain, but in the meantime we have to do our part."

Adam Scow, California Campaign Director of Food and Water Watch, responded to the Governor’s drought declaration as he rallied with 75 protesters, noting that Brown can't make it rain, but he can put a moratorium on fracking and he can stop his peripheral tunnels project.

"While Governor Brown cannot make it rain, he can prevent wasteful and harmful use of our water by placing an immediate moratorium on fracking and other extreme methods of oil and gas extraction that pollute our precious water resources with toxic chemicals," said Scow. "

"The drought underscores the need for reducing and maintaining responsible levels of water exports from the San Francisco Bay Delta," stated Scow. "This can be achieved if the Governor drops his plan to build massive twin tunnels to divert the Sacramento River in order to sustain excessively high water exports from the Delta.”

This plan, estimated to cost as much as $67 billion, would largely benefit corporate agribusinesses and oil interests in the southwest corner of the San Joaquin Valley at the expense of California taxpayers and households in the southern California and the Santa Clara Valley, noted Scow.

Scow said polls show Californians favor a moratorium on fracking and oppose the twin tunnels scheme when told the facts about these destructive projects.

"We need Governor Brown to do more than make declarations," said Scow. "We need Governor Brown to take bold action to protect California's water now and for future generations. Working to ban fracking and dropping the twin-tunnels would be a good start."

The drought proclamation outlined 20 points, including the initiation of a statewide conservation program, the implementation of water use reduction plans for all state facilities, the expediting of the processing of water transfers, and the consideration of modifying requirements for reservoir releases or diversion limitations.

Of note to anglers, point 15 states, “The Department of Fish and Wildlife will work with the Fish and Game Commission, using the best available science, to determine whether restricting fishing in certain areas will become necessary and prudent as drought conditions persist.”

The Environmental Water Caucus responded to the declaration by applauding the "emphasis on conservation" in Governor Brown's 20 point drought declaration, but criticizing five of the points as "wolves in sheep's clothing," particularly Directive 9 that effectively suspends the California Environmental Water Quality Act.

“This overreaching and throwing out the baby with the bath water in Directives 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10 is unnecessary when the real emphasis should be on permanent conservation at all levels – households, industry and agriculture,” said Nick Di Croce, Facilitator of the Environmental Water Caucus. “The need for more conservation and greater efficiencies in water management should not result in abrogation of equally needed environmental safeguards benefitting both humans and other species, including fish."

Regarding Directive 4, Di Croce said, “The danger in hurried water transfers is the risk of serious environmental damage on the seller’s end, such as replacing the transferred surface water with groundwater from an already badly stressed aquifer. Only careful advance environmental review can prevent that type of unintended consequence.”

He said Directive 5 “sounds innocent enough” in ordering the State Board to allow consolidation of the places of use of waters of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project.

“However, SWP is supposed to serve urban Southern California and parts of Kern County. CVP is supposed to serve specified areas, mostly agriculture, in the San Joaquin Valley. In fact, Directive 5 would allow unimagined unintended consequences like allowing CVP water to be sent to Orange County to float the boats in Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride,” he quipped.

Directive 8 could broadly expand the State Board’s ability to modify reservoir releases and water diversion limitations, supposedly to enable water to be “conserved” for later use. “But the loose language would also allow modifications for earlier releases and diversions, which typically are sought by politically powerful economic interests such as the Westlands Water District,” according to Di Croce.

“Directive 9 is by far the most egregious example of overreaction, and this time with an intended consequence --- broad suspension of one of Governor Brown’s favorite whipping boys, the California Environmental Quality Act. It also suspends Water Code Section 13247, which requires all state entities to comply with water quality plans of the State Board,” he said.

Anticipating the drought declaration, Restore the Delta (RTD) and Bay Delta Conservation Plan opponents on Monday held a tele-conference calling the tunnels a “flawed solution for a drought-plagued state," in addition to issuing a press release responding to the declaration after the Governor's press conference on Friday.

Barbara Barrigan Parrilla, RTD Executive Director, pointed out the disparity between record low levels in northern California reservoirs, including Folsom, Oroville, Shasta and Trinity, and Southern California reservoirs that are now 93 percent of capacity.

"It is worth noting that presently, reservoirs in Southern California are filled to 93% capacity," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "Yet, water levels are at record lows in the north part of the state, and corporate agribusiness growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are continuing the push for water deliveries, even though the water system is depleted."

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, emphasized the "egregious mismanagement" of the state's water has led to the current crisis.

"The present crisis could have been avoided, and is a direct result of egregious mismanagement of the state’s water supply system by the state and federal water projects," said Jennings. "Excessive water exports and the failure to prepare for inevitable drought have created a decades-long disaster for fisheries, and placed the people and economic prosperity of northern California at grave risk. The State's obsession with tunneling under the Delta does nothing to address drought, or put us on a path to correct the misuse of limited water supplies."

The tunnels will hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species, as well as imperil steelhead and salmon populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers, but they will not create one new drop of water for the state’s fish and people.

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