Water Wars In The Delta Continues

This post was written by jd on May 13, 2013
Posted Under: Environment
Photo credit: Bill Wells

Photo credit: Bill Wells

By Burt Wilson

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) event at the Sheraton last Friday was a signal to all the water agencies and their hangers-on that the PPIC wants to be a player in the California water war. If you will remember, the first PPIC report on the Delta a few years ago proposed an honest-to-goodness Peripheral Canal and a possible water barrier across the estuary at Chipps Island. Of course, we all know the Bechtal Corp., whose foundation funds PPIC, builds things like Peripheral Canals.

The event, in two words, was a “stacked deck.” Not one voice of opposition was seated on the stage. Only the usual cast of characters. The “environmental” voices were all party-liners, too. All did their thing and none bit the hand that pays them although Dr. Peter Goodwin, the head of the Delta Independent Science Board, speaking to the concept of Adaptive Management, did allow that, “There is so much uncertainty ahead of us that we have to have Adaptive Management.”
Almost every other word he used was “uncertainty.” I like this guy!

When he came off the stage, I met him with the statement, “Peter, if you want to stop uncertainty, just leave more water in the Delta and forget the tunnels.” He smiled and Jeff Kightlinger of the MWD, who was standing next to him, made a quick exit.

I got a chance to speak in a public comment period after the next group. I wanted to take issue with a couple of things Phil Isenberg, the Delta Stewardship Council chairman, said during his presentation. Phil began by philosophizing, saying, “The American People like to have a choice.” I told Phil, “That may be correct in the other 49 states, but not in California. We can’t vote on the twin tunnels of the BDCP plan. Jerry Brown is afraid he’ll lose. So we have no choice.”

I noticed that they did not give me the mic, but kept a firm grip on it while I spoke and took it away from me when I finished so I couldn’t reply to Phil’s answer. I did anyway. Shouted it out.
The other statement I took issue with was when Phil said, “Water problems make environmental problems.” I hit him with the same thing I told Dr. Goodwin privately, “Why not just leave the water in the Delta and don’t divert so much anymore and we can solve both our water and environmental problems.” Phil, as usual when he is cornered, retreated into a very long Shakespearian-like soliloquy that had all the characteristics of a fog moving under the bridge into SF Bay and swallowing up the city. It’s effect is that pretty soon people even forget the question. I think I even did.

The gamin-like Ellen Hanak, the PPIC chairperson for the event, was a strong facilitator and generally kept things moving but I didn’t hear one thing that I hadn’t heard before. The people sitting with me were curious about why she would give us a free continental breakfast and decent lunch to listen to 15 people telling us what we already know. You don’t spend that kind of money unless you want something back for it. What she got was the top water agency guys whose egos love the spotlight inherent in such functions.

Although the PPIC line differs here and there from the water agencies’ party line–but not so much as to make real waves–one came away with the impression that Hanak just wants to be a player with a seat at the water table. We’ll see.

A couple of more free lunches ought to do it, I thought.

On the other hand, doesn’t the Bechtal Corp. build water tunnels, too?


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