Westlands Water District Votes No on Delta Tunnels Project

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Map of Westlands Water District

By Dan Bacher

Editor’s note: This article was originally published at Daily Kos and is republished under their terms and conditions: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/9/19/1699905/-Westlands-Water-District-Votes-No-on-Delta-Tunnels-Project

In a major victory for Delta tunnels opponents, the Board of Directors of the Westlands Water District voted 7 to 1 against its participation in Governor Jerry Brown’s California WaterFix project.

Growers in the massive district, located on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, cited the high cost of the state-federal proposal as its reason for rejecting the project. Politically powerful Westlands is the largest irrigation district in the country.

The district would be one of the key beneficiaries of the proposed 35-mile long twin tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta—and its rejection of the project is a major loss for the Brown administration’s efforts to fast-track the construction of the project. It also sends a message to other water districts that the cost of the controversial plan is not worth the potential benefits.

The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of the Southern California board is slated to vote on the tunnels in early October, but the Westlands vote delivers a major blow to the project.

“Westlands’ decision to not participate in the California WaterFix will make it very difficult for other agencies to participate,” Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands, told the Los Angeles Times.

Delta tunnel opponents are pleased with the Westlands decision.

“Today is a very good day for California,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, in a statement. “By rejecting California WaterFix, the Westlands Water District has dealt a blow to the project. There are many better solutions for creating a sustainable water supply in California.”

She noted that the Metropolitan Water District’s math used to justify the construction of the project is based on a “sizable contribution from Westlands,” as is the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s math.

“They now have to come up with a lot more money for the Delta tunnels,” Barrigan- Parrilla stated. “It won’t pencil out for them either.”

The Westlands vote against the tunnels is not the only victory in the campaign to stop the project. The Los Angeles City Council Energy and Environmental Committee also voted no for the Delta tunnels project “until the project is fully financed and Metropolitan Water District meets all their considerations.”

Last month, more than 40 ratepayers drew significant media attention by holding a No Tunnels, No Water Rate Hike rally in front of Los Angeles City Hall.

Rally and meeting participants included representatives of Food & Water Watch, Consumer Watchdog, Union de Vecinos, Restore the Delta, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Concerned Citizens of Compton, Southern California Watershed Alliance, Sierra Club Angeles Water Committee, March and Rally–LA, People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), Ground Game LA, neighborhood council leaders and faith leaders.

“The Delta tunnels would raise water rates and property taxes in Los Angeles, costing ratepayers a total of $2.5 billion to $4 billion,” said Brenna Norton of Food & Water Watch. “These massive tunnels would change the way water is diverted from the Bay Delta and would send additional water to corporate agribusinesses in the Central Valley, while Southern California ratepayers pay more for no additional water.”

Norton said the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has endorsed this rate hike, which would be imposed by the Metropolitan Water District, even though it plans to reduce water imports from the Delta.

Also, the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose voted to pass a “no regrets package” planning $100 million for nine different projects such as storm water capture, leak repair and gray water.

The Associated Press has revealed that “dozens of water agencies and millions of families and farmers would be on the hook” for building the Delta tunnels. AP obtained new documents from Westlands—and confirmed the expanded funding demands in phone and e-mail interviews with state and local water officials.

Furthermore, the California Indian Water Commission joined three environmental groups— the California Water Impact Network, AquAlliance and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance—in filing a legal challenge to the financing of the Delta tunnels.

A recent landmark Ninth Circuit ruling that federally reserved Indian water rights have precedent over all state and federal water rights puts a new twist on how much water really will be available for the tunnels or any other project—and could put a big wrench in state and federal plants to build the massive 35-mile-long tunnels under the Delta.

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Dan Bacher is known as “Dangerous (don’t give a fish a chance) Dan” to the fish and out-of-line government agencies, Bacher, like all of us, fishes and writes about it. Bacher does the tough research and interviews it takes to write the hard-hitting editorials and action alerts you read on the pages of Daily Kos. His years of experience dealing with fishery issues provide the impetus required to get anglers involved in political action. As editor for the Fish Sniffer Print Edition, Bacher oversees production of the paper while making sure distinct timely content arrives to the Fish Sniffer Online.