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Why a bill before Congress is such a big threat to the Delta

Gov. Jerry Brown holds up his Water Action Plan in January 2016, calling for a twin-tunnel system to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Gov. Jerry Brown holds up his Water Action Plan in January 2016, calling for a twin-tunnel system to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. AP

If you care about the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta or protecting California water rights, you should be very alarmed by something that just happened 3,000 miles away in the halls of Congress.

Backed by southern California interests, the House Appropriations Committee just unveiled the fiscal year 2019 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. It includes language that would prohibit any judicial review of anything associated with the disastrous twin tunnels project, also known as California WaterFix, under federal or state laws.

Let’s be clear on what this means. Currently, there are over 25 lawsuits challenging various aspects of the project. These lawsuits have been filed by local governments, water districts, recreational groups, conservation groups and tribal governments – many of whom are my constituents.

John Garamendi new.jpg
John Garamendi

If this language — inserted by Rep. Ken Calvert of Riverside County — becomes law, these lawsuits would be dismissed, thereby giving a green light to build the tunnels without any further disposition.

Opinion

Even worse, the language would also prevent future legal challenges to any aspect of the twin tunnels, including how they are operated. Under this language, the state Department of Water Resources could take as much Sacramento River water as it wanted and send it to southern California and there would be no legal recourse to stop it. It would allow DWR to ignore federal and state environmental laws and state water law, including northern California water rights.

This language is one of the biggest threats Northern California and the Delta has faced yet, and it sets a horrible precedent.

Thankfully, it’s not a done deal. I will do everything I can to prevent this language from passing the U.S. House in the coming weeks.

But if it does, it must still pass the Senate to become law. I will work with U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris to ensure they, too, understand the dangers of this legislation. I am committed to opposing this at every step of the process.

John Garamendi, a Walnut Grove Democrat, represents California’s 3rd Congressional District. He can be contacted at jrg@mail.house.gov.
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