Metropolitan Water District’s Delta Islands Purchase Challenged by Lawsuit

by Dan Bacher : indymedia – excerpt

“People need to understand that MWD is not acting in the best interest of Southern Californians – it is only furthering their position as a water broker to import water to cities and utilities,” said Adam Scow, the California Director of Food and Water Watch, at the noon rally. “In fact, the Cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica both voted against the deal.”

On the lawn of Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Stockton on April 14, representatives of environmental groups, two Delta counties and Delta farmers gathered to announce the filing of a lawsuit challenging the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California’s purchase of four Delta islands to facilitate the construction of Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels.

Food & Water Watch, the Planning and Conservation League, San Joaquin County, Contra Costa County, the Contra Costa Water Agency and the Central Delta Water Agency filed suit in San Joaquin Superior Court Thursday afternoon, alleging that MWD’s claim of complete exemption from environmental review for the proposed purchase of 20,000 acres of Delta islands and farmland is “illegal and unjustified.”

The lawsuit asks the Judge to enjoin the powerful Southern California water agency from purchasing the property unless and until it completes the environmental review required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), one of the state’s landmark environmental laws.

The lawsuit was filed several days after MWD announced that it was spending $175 million to buy the islands. The lands being purchased include Bouldin Island, Bacon Island, Webb Tract, most of Holland Tract and part of Chipps Island. They cover 20,000 acres in San Joaquin, Contra Costa and Solano counties in the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. .

The complaint states, “MWD has identified Bouldin and Bacon Islands within the proposed path of the state of California’s unapproved tunnel construction project (‘California Water Fix’) undergoing separate review, and promoted its ownership to facilitate the tunnel construction.” (http://restorethedelta.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/MetropolitanComplaint.pdf)

“It’s not surprising that Metropolitan avoided a proper review, as the land purchase is not in the interest of Southern California ratepayers and taxpayers,” said Brenna Norton, Senior Organizer for Food & Water Watch, in a statement. ““This purchase would promote Metropolitan’s effort to build the $67 billion tunnels that will only benefit MWD ‘s bottom line—while costing Southern Californians billions and not providing one drop of new water.”’

At the noon rally, Adam Scow, the California Director of Food and Water Watch, said, “People need to understand that MWD is not acting in the best interest of Southern Californians – it is only furthering their position as a water broker to import water to cities and utilities. In fact, the Cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica both voted against the deal.”

The plaintiffs allege that MWD’s controversial land purchase is part of an attempt to divert more water from the Delta for the district’s use – and that the environmental impacts resulting from that activity would be “significant” and outside any exemption from CEQA.

Responding to questions about the lawsuit, Catherine Stites, MWD’s senior deputy general counsel, told the Sacramento Bee, “We are simply buying property. We’ve identified a number of potential future uses, but we have not identified any particular use or change in the use of the property yet. Our board has not given us authority to do anything with the property except buy it.”

She also said, “If and when we decide on a particular use, further environmental analysis will be done as required. It would be speculative to do CEQA (a state environmental review) now,” she stated.( http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/delta/article71889957.html#storylink=cpy)

However, Mark Myles, County Counsel for San Joaquin County, said that MWD is in fact taking “brazen steps” to bypass state law in order to approve the purchase.

“A twin tunnels project has yet to be approved, and Metropolitan Water District has taken brazen steps to bypass CEQA requirements in order to approve the $175 million Delta island purchase and begin a staging zone for twin tunnel construction,” said Myles.

“MWD’s actions to sidestep CEQA in its deal to purchase the islands illustrates the lengths that MWD is willing to go to acquire water for its own purposes without any regard for CEQA laws, environmental review and public input,” Myles emphasized. “San Joaquin County is not going to stand idly by and allow MWD to circumvent California environmental laws and make up its own rules in order to bulldoze its way through the Delta. MWD should immediately rescind its decision to purchase the islands and perform the environmental review required by CEQA.”

Roger Moore, the attorney representing the Planning and Conservation League and Food and Water Watch, said Metropolitan’s “outrageous claim” that its Delta island purchase is “too benign for environmental review” can’t be reconciled with its own promotional materials that portray the island purchase as clearing the path for construction of the Delta tunnels. “California’s residents and ratepayers deserve a higher standard of candor and accountability,” he noted.

Moore pointed out that the twin tunnels project has no final Environmental Impact Report by the State and no financing plan. Nor have the MWD Board of Directors member agencies approved financing for the project.

Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said the County “adamantly opposes” Metropolitan Water District’s attempt to go around CEQA rules,

“CEQA protects everyone from blatant attempts to destroy environmental requirements, and MWD’s flagrant disregard of CEQA in this instance continues to demonstrate how little it values the Delta and its critical ecosystem,” said Mitchoff. “Contra Costa County is a petitioner in this litigation because our citizens understand the importance of everyone having to follow the rules. MWD leadership should be ashamed of this unbelievable tactic, which reflects its ongoing unwillingness to deal with Delta concerns fairly.”

“MWD board members need to overturn this illegal decision pressed on them by their general manager,” added Jonas Minton, Water Policy Advisor for the Planning and Conservation League.

At the rally in support of the lawsuit, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, called on the MWD Board of Directors to reverse the vote that they made, at their General Manager’s urging, to purchase the Delta islands.

“Clearly, the purchase of the Delta islands is Met’s attempt to anchor the Delta tunnels in our region so that construction could begin, despite the fact that the plan is still not approved or financed,” she said.

“The $175 million purchase price for the Delta islands does not count the costs to Southern California ratepayers for the inevitable litigation that begins with today’s filing. If Met loses in court, they will not be able to ever sell these islands for the same price. That means Southern Californian water users will become owners of a very expensive duck habitat hundreds of miles to the north. Met will also be on the hook for maintenance of hundreds of miles of Delta levees, an ongoing cost that will be paid year after year by Southern California ratepayers,” she stated.

“Our 35,000 members from throughout California agree there are better ways for Southern California water agencies to plan for their water future. More than 7500 area residents have already signed letters that will be sent to Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors urging them to drop the Delta islands purchase and to instead invest the $175 million in solutions that build sustainability in Southern California like storm water capture and water recycling,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

She noted that the Met has already spent nearly $100 million on Delta tunnels planning, but the process at the State Water Board has recently ground to a halt.

“There no financial plan between Met and agricultural water districts, like the SEC-fined Westlands, as to who will pay what proportion of the $15.5 billion construction costs,” she concluded.

Jay Sorenson, the founder of the California Striped Bass Association, who held a sign proclaiming “Save the Delta Islands – Stop the Tunnels” at the rally, commented about the irony of MWD purchasing land for “wildlife restoration” when it is really using the land as a staging ground for the Delta Tunnels.

“To support wildlife habitat on the Delta, you need tidal water,” said Sorenson. “These islands would be instead a haven for mosquitoes in the stagnant water. MWD would end up putting bad water back into the good water of the Delta, especially when the tunnels are going through the two islands.”

The lawsuit was filed just four days after the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) revealed that the Department of Interior’s Inspector General has opened an investigation into the possible illegal use of millions of dollars by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Delta Tunnels, called the “California Water Fix” by the Brown administration. The investigation resulted from a complaint PEER filed on the behalf of a Bureau of Reclamation employee on February 19, 2016. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/04/12/feds-to-probe-misuse-of-state-funds-for-jerry-browns-delta-tunnels/)

Delta advocates say the “California Water Fix” would be the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history. The construction of the Delta Tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. The project would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers… (more)

Any guess as to whether or not this has anything to do with the parcel tax they want from the 9 county property owners to “clean the bay”?

Metropolitan Water District

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