New­som in­her­its Brown’s dis­puted wa­ter deals

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DALE KASLER AND RYAN SA­BALOW [email protected]

As his term as gover­nor drew to a close last month, Jerry Brown bro­kered a his­toric agree­ment among farms and cities to sur­ren­der bil­lions of gal­lons of wa­ter to help ail­ing fish species. He also made two big wa­ter deals with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — one to shore up sup­port for his strug­gling Delta tun­nels project, the other to trans­fer some of ur­ban Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter to Cen­tral Val­ley farm­ers whom the White House sup­ports.

It added up to a dizzy­ing dis­play of deal-mak­ing over an is­sue that con­founded Brown dur­ing much of his four terms in Sacra­mento. His top aides said the agree­ments rep­re­sented a bold at­tempt to calm Cal­i­for­nia’s no­to­ri­ous wa­ter wars and in­ject a dose of com­mon sense into a sys­tem tra­di­tion­ally ruled by strife and paral­y­sis.

“We rise to­gether, we fall to­gether,” Fish and Wildlife Di­rec­tor Chuck Bonham said in rolling out Brown’s plan for the fish. “I see a fu­ture that can help us bring all par­ties to­gether.”

Yet as Gavin New­som takes over as gover­nor, the state of wa­ter in Cal­i­for­nia seems as un­set­tled as ever.

The cen­ter­piece agree­ment Brown made — a gi­ant com­pro­mise on re­al­lo­cat­ing wa­ter to help the fish — ran into im­me­di­ate trou­ble. The State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board, a pow­er­ful agency gov­erned by Brown ap­pointees, es­sen­tially shelved the plan hours after it was un­veiled Dec. 12.

The board agreed to re­con­sider the com­pro­mise in the com­ing months, but op­po­si­tion to Brown’s plan was in­stan­ta­neous. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups — al­ways a pow­er­ful voice in Cal­i­for­nia wa­ter — say they’ll do what’s nec­es­sary to kill the com­pro­mise for good. They say the Brown plan is a sham, part of a broader sell­out of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns to ap­pease Don­ald Trump.

En­vi­ron­men­tal at­tor­ney Doug Obegi, of the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, said Brown’s var­i­ous deals are likely to pro­duce “a whole bunch of headaches rather than a grand bar­gain.”

Mean­while, the state board’s vote has come un­der at­tack in the courts al­ready. The Merced Ir­ri­gation Dis­trict sued within days. On Thurs­day, the city of San Fran­cisco and a host of agri­cul­tural ir­ri­gation dis­tricts, which pull wa­ter from the Tuolumne River and were part of Brown’s vol­un­tary set­tle­ments, sued to over­turn the Dec. 12 vote. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has been ag­gres­sively push­ing for more wa­ter for agri­cul­ture, also has threat­ened to sue.

New­som said lit­tle about wa­ter dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign, other than he might scale back the Delta tun­nels to a sin­gle pipe. He re­it­er­ated that stance Thurs­day dur­ing a press con­fer­ence on the bud­get, say­ing “I’m con­cerned about the twin tun­nels but I’m com­mit­ted to con­veyance.” He also said he’s as­sess­ing the cur­rent mem­ber­ship of the state wa­ter board, and is scru­ti­niz­ing the set­tle­ment plans un­veiled by Brown.

Like prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing in Cal­i­for­nia wa­ter, the agree­ments re­volve around the rivers that flow into the Sacra­mento-San Joaquin Delta. The es­tu­ary is the hub of the state’s net­work of dams and canals that sup­ply wa­ter to the farms and cities that be­long to the State Wa­ter Project, built by Brown’s fa­ther Gov. Pat Brown in the 1960s, and the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s Cen­tral Val­ley Project, be­gun by Franklin Roo­sevelt dur­ing the New Deal.

Wa­ter users and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have fought over the Delta for decades — how much flows in, how much reaches the ocean and how much gets pumped south.

State sci­en­tists say farms and cities take as much as 90 per­cent of the nat­u­ral flows on some of the trib­u­taries. To re­vive the species, sci­en­tists say more wa­ter needs to fol­low its nat­u­ral flow to the Pa­cific.

PAUL KITA­GAKI JR. pkita­[email protected]

Gov. Gavin New­som and Dutch, 2, lis­ten to a speech from first part­ner Jen­nifer Siebel New­som.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.