Recently, a backroom deal was made between Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) and the State Department of Water Resources that sells short CCWD customers as well as Delta fish and farmers.
The story began when CCWD opposed a petition by the State to divert more fresh water from the Sacramento River around the Delta as part of the controversial twin tunnels, or “WaterFix,” project. CCWD was against the proposal because it would negatively impact water quality throughout the Delta, including sites where it draws water for its customers.
On March 24th, in a closed-session meeting that wasn’t announced ahead of time, the CCWD’s Board of Directors approved an agreement with the Department of Water Resources to get upstream water from the State to offset the impact of the proposed twin tunnels — in exchange for CCWD dropping its opposition to the diversion petition.
CCWD operates under the State’s Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires that local agencies conduct their business in open meetings “…to facilitate public participation in local government decisions and to curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation…” In violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Brown Act, there was no release of a public agenda nor announcement of the closed session. The board didn’t even report on the substance of the agreement in open session at the public meeting during which the closed session was held. A subsequent news release just said that the Board of Directors would review details of the agreement at the April 6th board meeting.
On April 2th, East Bay Times reporter Denis Cuff broke the story in an article titled “East Bay Water District’s Delta Deal raises eyebrows among environmentalists.” At the April 6th board meeting, details of the agreement were at last revealed to the public, but there was no opportunity for input into the decision since action had already been taken.
CCWD’s decision to enter the agreement was extremely disappointing and a significant departure from past policy. The board’s action runs contrary to interests of its constituents as well as the Delta environment. By obtaining more higher-quality water upstream of the Delta, less fresh water will run into and through the already threatened estuary. This at a time when indicator species such as the critically endangered Delta smelt have declined significantly in numbers and now face extinction.
For decades, CCWD fought alongside Contra Costans to protect the Delta in order to save fish populations and to protect irrigation sources for farmers. In 1982, CCWD was a leader in the successful effort to defeat the Peripheral Canal, which 96 percent of Contra Costa residents and a majority of State voters opposed. Now the Peripheral Canal is back, renamed the “WaterFix.”
There are many protests in play against the State’s change-of-diversion petition that would make way for the twin tunnels; DWR is trying to buy them off one by one. Building the tunnels hinges on the willingness of water agencies — including several in the Bay Area — to pay for it. Bay Area residents will be directly affected by the tunnels, and can have a voice in these decisions by urging our water agencies to stand firm in protecting the Delta and opposing the tunnel plan. Deals like CCWD’s agreement will strengthen the tunnels’ proponents, and put the Delta in greater jeopardy.
CCWD’s decision violated its legal requirements to be transparent and accountable to the public. The Board should hold a public hearing on the agreement as soon as possible to reconsider its position. The Sierra Club recommends that the CCWD board revoke the settlement agreement with the State and reinstate their protest against the WaterFix tunnels.
Send a letter to the CCWD Board of Directors and General Manager Jerry Brown, 1331 Concord Avenue, Concord, CA 94524. Tell them that because they violated specific provisions as well as the spirit of the Brown Act on a critical and controversial issue — the twin tunnels deal — they should hold a public hearing as soon as possible to reconsider their position. Urge them to revoke the settlement agreement and reinstate their protest of the twin tunnels.
If you’re interested in this and other water issues, consider attending a meeting of the Chapter’s Water Committee. The Committee meets the third Monday of each month — in person at the Bay Chapter’s Berkeley office in odd-numbered months; and via conference call in even months. For more information, you can reach out to Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at sodier at mindspring.com or (510)336-1102.