California WaterFix

In a stunning development, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) submitted a letter to the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) today withdrawing their certificate of consistency for the California WaterFix project.

“While DWR firmly believes the timing of filing the certification of consistency for WaterFix was appropriate based on the thorough record that had been prepared for the project and that this record more than adequately supports the findings that WaterFix is consistent with Delta Plan policies, DWR appreciates that there are unresolved issues related to interpretation of the requirements of the Delta Reform Act and Delta Plan policies,” wrote DWR Director Karla Nemeth in her letter to the DSC. “Therefore, DWR is hereby withdrawing the Certification of Consistency for California Water Fix that was filed on July 27, 2018.”

Obtaining a certificate of consistency is a regulatory requirement for development projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The certificate asserts the construction and operation of a project is consistent with the Delta Plan – a comprehensive, long-term strategy for managing Delta resources. Without a certificate, it’s not yet clear how the Tunnels project might move forward.

“This is a big setback for the governor’s water tunnels,” said Michael Brodsky, attorney for Discovery Bay-based Save the California Delta Alliance (STCDA).

DWR is the agency responsible for implementing WaterFix and they submitted a certificate of consistency to the DSC this past August. The submission was appealed by nine groups representing more than 20 agencies who opposed DWR’s action. Three days of testimony and public comments in which proponents and opponents of the project argued their case were held by the DSC in October and the outcome of that hearing was the draft recommendation issued by the DSC staff. A hearing to review the staff recommendation was held Nov. 15. At the conclusion of that session, DSC Chair Randy Fiorini suggested that DWR withdraw its certification.

“Frankly, I’m frustrated,” said Fiorini. “This project came to us before it was ready. At this point, with the weaknesses identified, and obviously in my opinion, there’s more work to do. I would strongly encourage (DWR) to consider withdrawing the certification of consistency.”

The DSC had two days of hearings planned for later this month during which they were to issue a final ruling on the appeals to DWR’s certification. It is expected that these hearings will be canceled now that DWR has withdrawn their certification.

“We are thrilled about DWR's withdrawal from the consistency determination process,” wrote Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta in an email to The Press. “We still, however, know that the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority, Delta Conveyance Finance Authority and DWR have hired or are hiring construction crews because of ads for such work popping up in Sacramento-area publications. Today is a good day for the Delta and California. But it's not over yet.”

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), a driving force in the WaterFix project, said MWD consulted DWR on the decision to withdraw the certificate, but it was ultimately the decision was made by DWR. He characterized DWR’s move as a bump in the road and said he expects that a revised certificate will be submitted within 90 days.

“The Stewardship Council highlighted four things they wanted more information on,” said Kightlinger. “They didn’t have findings that they were inconsistent. They just felt there was inadequate information on several items. The smart thing to do – is what Karla (Nemeth) did – is to pull the matter. Then we’ll go back and augment the record with that information on those items. Hopefully then we can move forward and get back to work.”

This development comes as Gov. Brown and Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) are urging renewal of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nations (WIIN) Act. A renewal of the WIIN Act would send more Delta water to the Central Valley and Southern California through the existing State Water Project infrastructure, a move that drew protestors to Feinstein’s San Francisco office Thursday morning.

“Jerry Brown and Diane Feinstein are colluding to make an end-around all of our efforts and bypass the state agencies whose charter is to protect the Delta,” wrote Jan McCleery, STCDA president. “At issue is the federal WIIN Act which was originally designed as a short-term fix to send more Delta water south during California’s historic drought. It is scheduled to expire in 2021. The WIIN Act extension reportedly comes with Trump administration financial support for the Delta twin tunnels!”

This is a developing story and it will be updated as new information becomes available.

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