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Legislature to Audit Funding for Jerry Brown's Delta Tunnels

By Dan Bacher

Opponents of Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels plan scored a victory on August 10 when the Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted to conduct an audit into funding for the tunnels, as requested by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman and Senator Lois Wolk.

The legislators approved the audit by a 9-2 vote. Assemblymembers Freddie Rodriguez, Chair, (D), Katcho Achadjian (R), Catharine B. Baker (R) and Adrian Nazarian (D) and Senators Richard Roth (D), JIm Beall (D), Cathleen Galgiani (D), Ricardo Lara (D) and Connie M. Leyva (D) voted for the audit. Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula (D) and Senator Jean Fuller (R) voted against it, while Assemblymember Brian Jones (R) and Senator Cannella (R) didn't vote.

The controversial plan, now called the California WaterFix, aims to build two massive 30 mile long twin tunnels under the Delta to divert Sacramento River water to agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods.

In a hearing at the State Capitol in Sacramento, the legislators said the $16 billion cost, lack of legislative oversight, and “murky funding mechanisms” all indicated the need for an audit of the funding for the controversial project, according to a press release from Restore the Delta (RTD).

"Such a significant investment needs, I think, to have a corresponding level of oversight and scrutiny,” said Assemblymember Susan Eggman.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, thanked Assemblymember Eggman and Senator Wolk for their leadership on this issue.

“A project this expensive, and potentially destructive to the San Francisco Bay-Delta, deserves scrutiny and public oversight,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

Spencer Kenner, chief counsel for the California Department of Water Resources chief counsel, said the agency did not oppose an audit and promised full transparency. Nobody testified against the proposed audit.

The Delta Counties Coalition (DCC), including representatives of Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo counties, also back the audit.

“We strongly support greater openness and accountability of this multibillion dollar tunnel plan,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, chair of the DCC. “This request is timely and will shed much needed light on spending for this project.”

“We thank the legislators who asked for this audit and commend their efforts to protect the interests of California taxpayers and ratepayers,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff.

In public comment, Barrigan-Parrilla made the case for an audit of the Delta Tunnels.

“The proposed Delta tunnels project, also known as California WaterFix, is required, under CA Water Code 85089, to have the state and federal water contractors pay for the planning, mitigation, and construction of the project," Barrigan-Parrilla explained. “That is not what has been happening, and that is why I am here today to ask this committee to move forward with an audit of CA WaterFix.”

She also outlined three areas of “potentially improper transactions” involving public funds within the Department of Water Resources, Westlands Water District, San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority, Metropolitan Water District, and Santa Clara Valley Water District. These are:

“1. The Deputy Inspector for the U.S. Department of Interior is already investigating how the Department of Water Resources siphoned off millions of Federal taxpayer dollars meant for improving fish habitat to instead prepare the Environmental Impact Report for the controversial Delta tunnels project…” 
 2. Both the Santa Clara Valley Water and Metropolitan Water Districts have used property tax funds to pay for Delta tunnels planning without a vote of property taxpayers… 
 3. “How did DWR select and award one of the state’s large engineering water contracts to a contractor with a BS in economics and no water project management experience…?”

“The project beneficiaries have created a ‘joint powers authority’ to further mask how the beneficiaries are basically in charge of this so-called “public water project” that will benefit just a few regions of the state at the expense of our public trust resources, the regional economies and vast water quality resources served by this estuary and the rivers that feed it,” she stated.

“This shift in control is known only after months and months of Public Record Act requests and deserves an investigation into how this major project will now be run by the select beneficiaries without Legislative oversight,” Barrigan-Parrilla said.

Her full testimony is available here.

In April, the Department of Interior’s Inspector General opened an investigation into the possible illegal use of millions of dollars by the California Department of Water Resources in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Delta Tunnels Plan. The investigation resulted from a complaint the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed on the behalf of a Bureau of Reclamation employee on February 19, 2016. (

The audit is one more hurdle that Governor Jerry Brown faces in his campaign to build the Delta Tunnels. The State Water Resources Control Board is currently holding hearings on the permit requests by the Department of Water of Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for new water diversion intakes on the Sacramento River and water quality certification under the Clean Water Act (CWA). These are essential permits required before the Delta Tunnels could be constructed.

Delta advocates oppose the Delta Tunnels because they say it would hasten the extinction of Sacramento winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, 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.

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