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 The voice of California's rivers

delta by don mace istockphoto

Delta Rally

EWC Report Cover 2009

Click here to read the report from the Enviromental Water Caucus (pdf).

Watch Barbara of Restore the Delta introduce a Give the Delta a Voice Press Conference (above) and FOR's Steve Evans statement (below).

Poll Shows Californians Skeptical Of The Peripheral Canal
The results of a new statewide poll show that 76% of California voters believe California is on the “wrong track” and, while concerned about water issues, are hesitant to support a water bond and are highly skeptical of the Peripheral Canal Project. 

Despite the extensive public relations campaign waged by Governor Schwarzenegger and downstate water agencies, the majority of Californians who have an opinion remain opposed to a Peripheral Canal once they know of its cost and impacts. Only 28% support the canal while 34% are opposed, with 39% undecided.

Interestingly, when informed about the details and costs of a Peripheral Canal, voter opposition soars to 76% while support dwindles to 21%. Indeed, the poll proves that concern about a Peripheral Canal is statewide, with clear majorities opposing it in LA/Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and even Fresno.
The poll results were unveiled as the California Legislature is attempting to push a last-minute package of water bills in the final days of the session that would overturn 130 years of California water rights law and legal precedent and pave the way for construction of a Peripheral Canal.

Commissioned by Restore the Delta, the poll was released in late August. Restore the Delta is a coalition of Delta farmers, anglers, businesses and local communities dedicated to protecting and restoring the Delta. Friends of the River is a member and staunch supporter of Restore the Delta. A summary of the poll results will be available soon.

Hold On To Your Wallets! Canal Price Tag Now $54 Billion!

An independent economist has estimated that the Peripheral Canal and the new dams proposed to supply water to the canal will cost somewhere in the range of $23 billion to $54 billion depending on the size and type of conveyance constructed.

Steven Kasower, the principal of Strategic Economic Applications Company, says that the public debt service on such a “monumental project” as the Peripheral Canal will range from “$1.3 billion to $3.4 billion annually.”
His cost estimates are tentative since design and engineering information for the canal is quite preliminary and virtually no information is available concerning environmental impacts and mitigation that would be required if the canal is built.

In light of the Legislature’s current attempt to pass a Delta “solutions” package before Sept. 11, Kasower’s report concluded, “There is not enough substantive engineering, economic, and thus financial information at this point to consider any Delta solution policy other than serious investment in answers. A rush to solution will result in no progress and no solution.”

Kasower holds a Phd in Economics from UC Davis and formerly worked for the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources. A link to this report will be available soon.

Drain - Water & Money

California does not have a water supply has a water management problem.

Tell Your Legislators we need common sense solutions and to oppose the proposed Budget Busting, Wasteful, and Ineffective Water Bonds! 

2009/2010 Water Legislation

Peripheral Canal & Water Bonds

Skip to:  Proposed Peripheral Canal * What do the experts say * What about the Water Bonds

Although Friends of the River enjoyed significant river conservation achievements in 2009, our agenda for 2010 will be substantially driven by some of our defeats. In November, the California Legislature approved and the Governor signed an $11 billion proposed general obligation bond to fund water projects and programs. The bond measure will likely be placed on the November 2010 statewide ballot for voter approval. The bond will provide significant new funding for new and enlarged dams on the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Mokelumne, Merced, and Bear Rivers. It also threatens to bankrupt the state. Friends of the River and other organizations successfully delayed passage of the bond in the Legislature for the past several years, but the state’s continuing drought along with substantial campaign donations to Legislators and the Governor from those who will benefit directly from the bond overpowered our efforts to stave off its passage for another year. The Friends of the River Board of Directors will decide in early December to what extent we will actively campaign against the bond in 2010. Click here for more info.

Along with the budget-busting water bond, the California Legislature approved and the Governor signed a complex package of new water policies for the state that threatens to increase the state’s reliance on fresh water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Although the Legislature claimed that the policy package had little to do with the controversial Peripheral Canal, which was rejected by statewide voters in 1980, the Governor declared his intent to build the canal the day after the policy package was approved. But with threats, there are also opportunities. In this case, the legislation directs the California Water Resources Control Board to determine flows needed in the Delta and its upstream river tributaries to protect public trust values. Friends of the River intends to be a major player in this process in 2010.


In The News

2009-11 Water Bond Cartoon

Cartoon by Rex Babin, Published in the Sacramento Bee

  • Schwarzenegger Signs The Delta's Death Warrant
    Bay Area Indymedia, November 16
    The water package was opposed by the Sierra Club California, Planning and Conservation League, Friends of the River, Butte Environmental Council, ...Read more >
  • The Conversation: Water pact falls short on protections
    Sacramento Bee, November 15
    By Steve Evans Legislative supporters and some environmental groups hail the ... Friends of the River, the Sacramento- based statewide river conservation ...Read more >
  • Legislature Approves Controversial Water Package and Budget Busting Water Bond
    Bay Area Indymedia,  November 8
    Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River, provides a superb analysis of the controversial water package and budget-busting ...Read more >
  • Groups Battle Over Water Legislation
    truthout - Los Angeles, November 5
    "Unfortunately, the governor has already said he wants to build the largest peripheral canal he can, tomorrow," said Evans of Friends of the River. ...Read more >
  • State Legislature approves comprehensive package to overhaul water ...
    Los Angeles Times, November 4
    But other conservation groups such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the River have fought it, complaining that the policy overhaul is anemic and the bond's ...Read more > 
  • Historic Water Reform Package Passes Calif. Legislature
    New York Times, November 4
    Firmly against it were the Sierra Club, Friends of the River, and Planning and Conservation League. To Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the ...Read more >
  • Blasts Steinberg for Sponsoring Peripheral Canal Legislation
    Bay Area Indymedia, November 3
    "Without express protection from the impacts of the proposed peripheral canal, ... Friends of the River, Butte Environmental Council, Restore the Delta, ...Read more >
  • Update on California's Water Situation
    California Progress Report - Oakland
    For those who oppose, such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the River, the question is - what is your alternative and how do you pay for it? ... Read more.

Post '09 Legislative Session Update

California Legislature Approves Controversial Water Package And Budget-Busting Water Bond

After a marathon special session that went well in the wee hours of the morning, the California Legislature approved early this week a controversial package of Delta water policy bills and a budget-busting $11 billion water bond. Its legislative supporters and some environmental groups hailed the complex package as fairly balanced and ambitious water reform. Friends of the River, other conservation and fishing groups, and Delta farmers opposed the legislation, noting that was rife with environmental loopholes and pork-barrel funding.

Responding to multiple alerts rolled out during the last hours of the special legislative session, Friends of the River members played a key role in securing the handful of no votes against the bad policy bills and water bond. Primarily from the Bay Area, Delta region, and the north coast, the legislators who took a courageous stand against intense pressure from their political leaders and water interests deserve our heartfelt thanks.

Supporters claimed the policy package wasn’t about “conveyance” – the new euphemism for the costly and destructive Peripheral Canal, a controversial facility originally rejected by state voters in 1982. But the legislation establishes the Delta Stewardship Council, to develop an overall Delta Plan to manage the Delta and operate its water facilities. The bill specifically directs the Council, which will be unaccountable to the voters, to consider “conveyance” options for the Delta. In addition, the majority of the Council will be appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger, who has publicly stated that no new studies are needed and that we should start building the Peripheral Canal today. It seems likely that his appointments will support building the largest canal possible.

Friends of the River fears that approval and construction of a large canal will all but dry up the Delta by diverting fresh water flows from the Sacramento River around the estuary for export south to southern Central Valley agribusiness and urban developers in southern California.

Loopholes and vague language in the policy package substantially watered down its few good provisions. Although the package establishes as state policy reducing reliance on the Delta to meet California’s future water supplies, it fails to explicitly require reducing current Delta water diversions, which have degraded the estuary’s ecosystem and brought its native fisheries to the brink of extinction.

The bill directs the State Water Board to recommend, but says little about actually adopting, flow standards to protect the Delta ecosystem. Statewide monitoring of groundwater (the largest single source of water consumed in the state) became largely voluntary in the final version of the bill. Another bill policy to reduce per capita water consumption in the state by 20%, failed to establish any quantifiable reduction standard for agriculture, which consumes 80% of California’s developed water supplies.

Perhaps the most disturbing outcome of the marathon session was passage of the $11 billion water bond. Now approved by the Legislature, the general obligation bond will be placed on the November 2010 ballot for voter approval. Although the bond provides needed funding for regional water conservation, recycling, reclamation of polluted groundwater, and ecosystem restoration programs, it also provides billions of dollars to build new and expand existing dams that directly threaten California rivers, including Sacramento, San Joaquin, Mokelumne, Bear, and other rivers.

The State Treasurer and the Legislative Analyst have warned that the state can no longer afford to borrow money by selling more general obligation bonds. Approved existing bonds will suck up 10% of the state’s general fund revenues in the next few years, necessitating more cuts in state public safety, health, education, and environmental programs that have already been cut to the bone. This situation will worsen if an additional $11 billion in borrowing is approved by the voters.

Moreover, the $3 billion of the bond dedicated to funding new dams and other “storage” facilities is continuously appropriated, which means that this money will come off the top of general fund revenues every year, before any other state debts or programs are funded. If the state’s finances deteriorate even further, which seems likely, the Legislature will not have the option of delaying the portion of the bond sales funding new dams to manage its debt.

Public bond funding of new dams is based on the premise that there will be public benefits from the project. One of the projects slated for funding is the Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River. Because existing dams already store and divert up to 98% of the San Joaquin River’s annual flow, Temperance Flat, if constructed, will store only a minor amount of water 1 year out of 3. Even the Bureau of Reclamation, which historically overestimates dam benefits and underestimates dam costs, agrees that Temperance Flat would provide only a fraction of 1% in benefit for its multi-billion dollar cost (that is for every dollar invested, we’ll get back a dollar and a fraction of a penny).

Early in the special session, it seemed that fiscal sanity would reign in the Legislature as numerous Legislators indicated their opposition to the bond. But the political tide turned when the policy bills were approved, which prompted the need to adopt a funding mechanism. The last few of the necessary 2/3rds votes were secured when legislative leaders began earmarking pots of money in the bond for specific legislative districts. The entire Legislature ultimately succumbed to the worse kind of pork-barrel politics. 

The organizations that fought furiously against passage of the Delta policy and water bond package includes Friends of the River, Restore the Delta, Planning and Conservation League, Sierra Club, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Clean Water Action, Environmental Justice Water Coalition, Delta farmers and water districts, and many others. This loose is coalition is considering organizing a “No on the Water Bond” committee to educate the public about the financial and environmental ramifications of the water bond on the November 2010 ballot.

In addition, the policy bills will require renewed vigilance in several major quasi-public and public planning efforts. The Metropolitan Water District, Westlands Water District, and other water importers are developing the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). Despite the “conservation” part of its name, this is largely a plan for conveyance – that is building the Peripheral Canal. A draft BDCP and environmental impact report (EIR) is scheduled for public release at the end of 2009, with the final plan and EIR completed by the end of 2010.

It is anticipated that Governor Schwarzenegger will appoint the Delta Stewardship Council early in 2010 and the Council will initiate the overall Delta Plan required by the legislation. Among other things, the plan includes a requirement for the State Water Board to adopt flow recommendations within 9 months of bill enactment to protect and restore the Delta ecosystem, fisheries, and water quality. The question whether the Board will have the backbone to recommend and adopt tough Delta flow standards that will likely reduce exports.

So there will be plenty for supporters and opponents alike to do in the next 14 months. California’s water wars are not over; they’ve clearly just begun.

Proposed Peripheral Canal

One of the most disturbing provisions in the legislative package was the one that gives the Governor the power to appoint a majority of a “Delta Stewardship Council” that will decide whether to build the controversial Peripheral Canal, how big a canal should be, and how it will be funded. Given that the canal’s price tag is now estimated at $54 billion, it is cowardly of the Legislature to delegate to an elected body this controversial and costly decision. The council would have the power to decide how much you, the taxpayers, would pay to continue to subsidize water for corporate agribusiness in the southern Central Valley and southern California developers.
The Legislature moved forward with this legislative package with the assumption that the long anticipated Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) will guide restoration of the Delta. When completed, the BDCP is intended to be the primary mechanism to restore the Delta ecosystem, endangered fisheries, and poor water quality. But the BDCP is a long way from completion and conservation groups involved in the BDCP process say that water interests are working hard to weaken it.  The Legislature should not be try to pass crucial Delta legislation before we know what needs to be done and how much it will cost!

The Governor and DWR claim that the canal will help restore the Delta’s dying ecosystem, declining fisheries, and degraded water quality. You don’t have to be biologist to rightly question how we can restore an ecosystem degraded by dams and canals by building yet more dams and canals. This is wishful thinking at best by legislative leaders looking for an easy fix and outright duplicity on the part of a state administration that has willfully and deliberately broken laws intended to protect endangered species and water quality.

Whatever the Legislature’s Democratic majority intends to do about water, you can be sure that the Republican caucus will withhold any support unless the package specifically includes authorization and funding for new or enlarged dams. Dams on the Republican’s “must do” list include the enlargement of that Shasta Dam (which would drown the last remaining homeland of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe on the McCloud River), the Sites Reservoir (which would divert water from the Sacramento River), and the Temperance Flat Dam (which would drown the scenic San Joaquin River Gorge).

Even some proponents of the canal have questioned its supposed benefits to the Delta’s ecosystem, fisheries, and water quality.  The Public Policy Institute of California determined that there is only a 50% likelihood that the Sacramento River salmon population, which is the mainstay of the commercial and sport salmon fishing industries in California and southern Oregon, will remain viable with a Peripheral Canal. The same report found only a 40% likelihood that the Delta smelt would remain viable with a canal.

A recent scientific evaluation of the draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, which is closely tied to the canal proposal, found that the benefits of Delta habitat restoration may be off-set by the negative impacts of the Peripheral Canal diversion on Sacramento River salmon. The same report indicated that the canal would do little to improve south Delta water quality or the survival of San Joaquin River salmon population.

With the proposed legislation, the California Legislature simply was abdicating to the Governor the decision to build the canal and avoiding hard choices. The fact is that California is living beyond its means in terms of water. Building the Peripheral Canal will provide no new water it simply takes water from the environment and northern California water consumers and gives it to agribusiness and new development in southern California.
Investing billions of taxpayer dollars in the canal and new dams will actually provide little new water and compete for state funding with public safety, health, and education programs that have already suffered from state budget cuts. Wise and much cheaper investments in water conservation, reclamation, recycling, and improved groundwater management can stretch our existing supplies and easily meet our current and future needs.

Friends of the River is pushing hard for a top to bottom revamp of water rights in California. One of the underlying problems with the seemingly intractable water issue is the fact that California has granted rights to considerably more water than is normally available in any one year. That sets up a permanent but artificial state of demand outstripping supply. Re-determining the highest beneficial use for all existing water supplies, coupled with significant efforts to encourage regional self-sufficiency through water conservation, recycling/reclamation, and improved groundwater management, will go a long way towards solving the problem. The fact is that California has a water management problem, not necessarily a water supply problem.

What do the experts say

Even some proponents of the Peripheral Canal have questioned its supposed benefits to the Delta’s ecosystem, fisheries, and water quality.  The Public Policy Institute of California determined that there is only a 50% likelihood that the endangered Sacramento River salmon population, which is the mainstay of the commercial and sport salmon fishing industries in California and southern Oregon, will remain viable with a Peripheral Canal. The same report found only a 40% likelihood that the endangered Delta smelt would remain viable with a canal.

A recent scientific evaluation of the draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, which is closely tied to the canal proposal and specifically referred to in AB 39, found that the benefits of Delta habitat restoration may be off-set by the negative impacts of the Peripheral Canal diversion on Sacramento River salmon. The same report indicated that the canal would do little to improve south Delta water quality or the survival of the endangered San Joaquin River salmon population.

To be clear, doing nothing is not an option for the Delta. Large state and federal pumps already divert about 40% of the fresh water from the Delta for export south. These “through Delta” exports have more than tripled over the last 50 years, reversing flows in Delta channels, degrading water quality, and driving Delta fisheries towards extinction.

Clearly, we are faced with the difficult choice of reducing exports if we want to restore the Delta and protect its endangered fish. But AB 39 and its companion bills fail to even consider reducing exports as an option. According to the State’s own water plan, California can stretch its existing water supplies and easily meet our current and future needs through wise investments to improve regional self-sufficiency and sustainability, including water conservation, reclamation, recycling, and improved groundwater management. In these troubled economic times, it is also important to note that investing billions of taxpayer dollars in the canal and new dams will compete for state funding with public safety, health, and education programs that have already suffered from state budget cuts.

California voters wisely rejected the Peripheral Canal in 1982. The Governor’s proposed canal and new dams are 19th century solutions to our 21st century water problems. Both the Governor and legislative leadership have announced their intent to push through this misguided water legislation in the next month.

What About Water Bonds

In the midst of contentious debate over a package of water bills intended to increase California’s water supply and restore the dying Delta, Assembly member Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) has reintroduced a water bond for consideration.

The most alarming aspect of the legislative package was that it was to be tied to a controversial to the $12.6 billion water bond to fund new dams to supply additional fresh water for central valley farmers and southern California.  The problem is that new dams will not solve the drought or significantly improve water supplies in most years. But Republicans in the Legislature have promised to oppose and the Governor has vowed to veto any water legislation package that fails to include a multi-billion dollar water bond. As a California taxpayer, your debt on budget-busting water bond will be more than $800 million a year for 30 years. This will be taken out of the state’s general fund from public safety, health, education, and environmental protection programs that have already been slashed to the bone.  This is not the time to be passing multi-billion dollar bonds for expensive dams that will do little to relieve the drought. 

The bond bill proposes to spend $3 billion on constructing new or enlarging existing dams, plus provides another $2-3 billion that could be used to build local or regional dam projects. The remainder of the bond would help fund water recycling, conservation, groundwater storage, water quality, and watershed restoration efforts. According to Caballero, the proposed bond reflects the will of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein to solve California’s water problems by building more dams and paving the way for the construction of a massive Peripheral Canal.

If passed by the Legislature, the bond will likely be placed on the November 2010 general election ballot for approval by state voters. Just how the bond will interact with the complex package of water bills currently before the Legislature is unclear. But the Republican Caucus and Governor Schwarzenegger have promised to oppose any water bill that that does not include a water bond to fund new dams.

A recent poll found that Californians are leery of an expensive water bond to build new dams. Since general obligation bonds are essentially loans paid for by the taxpayer, the annual public debt payment on a nearly $12 billion bond will be more than $760 million. This debt payment will compete for state funding of public safety, health, education, environmental protection programs already suffering from state budget cuts.  Learn more.

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