Federal Water Agency Failed to Disclose Funding for Twin Tunnels

9.8.17: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation failed to reveal significant funding for the Twin Tunnels. The Office of the Inspector General for the Interior Department stated that, “…USBR did not disclose the full cost of its participation in the BDCP, subsidized CVP water contractors, and converted $50 million in Federal funds from reimbursable to nonreimbursable without documentation to support its determination that the funds should be nonreimbursable.”

The Bureau is the same federal agency that AquAlliance is suing over their plans to transfer in ten years more water from the NorthState than the City of Chico would use in 200 years [see Lawsuit Filed Against 10-Year Water Transfer Program]. AquAlliance also filed its first lawsuit over the Twin Tunnels in August 2017 [see Lawsuit Filed Against Twin Tunnels (aka WaterFix)].

Click links for:

DWR still makes missteps with communication

It took a few months, but the state Department of Water Resources finally admitted to poor communication in the wake of the Lake Oroville spillway disaster.
Now the state agency is back to its old ways — if it ever changed at all.

DWR’s ham-handed approach to the public and even other government agencies was bothersome early on, but not surprising to anyone who has paid attention for a few years.

This is a public agency prone to telling other public agencies not to talk to the public. From slapping a gag order on participants in a relicensing agreement 11 years ago to ordering workers not to talk to anyone about an accident at the Hyatt Powerplant under the dam eight years ago, DWR has established a pattern that didn’t change with this crisis.

Beginning before the evacuation, DWR wasn’t forthright with information or the acting director was making comments that upset people. In public meetings much later, DWR officials apologized for a lack of transparency and poor communication and vowed to do better.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Four incidents in the past two weeks provide proof.

  • After 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night, Aug. 15, our night editor heard on the scanner a report of firefighters being called to a fire at the spillway. We couldn’t get information that night before press start. The next day, reporter Andre Byik sent a text message to Bill LaGrone, the head of Oroville’s police and fire departments, asking if he knew anything. It was the first he had heard of a fire at the spillway.

Fortunately, he was sitting in a weekly meeting where government agencies involved in the Oroville spillway response share and compare notes. The fire never came up, and at a meeting like that it should, so LaGrone finally raised the question.

He was told a portable generator caught fire at the dam’s spillway parking lot. Cal Fire-Butte County responded, and a city fire truck was called off before it arrived.
Not mentioning the fire was certainly an error of omission.

  • Some individuals said they felt pressured by DWR to not sign a letter asking the federal government to delay relicensing of the Oroville project until more is known about the causes of the spillway collapse. It’s a valid request, but DWR has been itching for years to get a new license.
  • The DWR has verbally come out against this request for a delay with the DWR making subtle threats to some of the signatories,” said Oroville Chamber of Commerce CEO Sandy Linville. “ However, we stand unwavered in our resolve that we want our safety to be paramount above anything else.”As it should be.
  • The DWR dumped spawning gravel in the Feather River so adult salmon this fall will have a place to lay eggs. A lot of the gravel was washed away in the spillway flooding, leaving a silty bottom not conducive to spawning.It’s just a fraction of what needs to be done for fisheries to repair environmental damage from the spillway. DWR says it will do much more if it gets a license.
    Wait. Shouldn’t DWR be fixing the environmental damage regardless?
  • After we ran a story about the latest report by the Board of Consultants looking into the causes and solutions after the spillway failure, headlined “ Board of Consultants has concerns about temporary roller compacted concrete,” DWR public affairs assistant director Erin Mellon emailed us to take exception to our use of the term “concerns.”She said using the term “concerns” was subjective, and added, “ To say everything noted in these memos is a concern is overstating it.”

    She also said we should have highlighted the positive things the consultants said about the work being done at the spillway.

So DWR has time to critique nouns by reporters but not enough time to report a fire at the spillway construction site? This gets more alarming all the time.


Lawsuit Challenges Destructive Delta Tunnels Project in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A coalition of conservation groups today sued the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) over its approval of the controversial Delta tunnels project.

The lawsuit was filed in Sacramento Superior Court by AquAlliance, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Water Impact Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Friends of the River, Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Planning and Conservation League, Restore the Delta, Save Our Sandhill Cranes and Sierra Club California.

“Once again Big Ag in the San Joaquin Valley has come begging for more corporate welfare,” said Adam Keats, a senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “Only this time it’s at an obscene scale, with tens of billions of dollars to be pilfered from the people’s pockets, an entire ecosystem driven to collapse, and incredible harm caused to the Delta farming economy and California’s sustainable salmon fishery.”

Click link to read the full press release: Tunnels CEQA lawsuit PR 8-18-17 Coalition

Lawsuit Filed Against Twin Tunnels (aka WaterFix)

DWR Gets Another Failing Grade

Chico, CA: AquAlliance and a coalition filed a lawsuit in state court against the Department of Water Resources (DWR)) over their Environmental Impact Report’s (EIR) inadequate disclosure, avoidance of impacts, analysis, and mitigation for the proposed Twin Tunnels. The over 50,000-page EIR was certified by DWR on July 21, 2017.

“Californians aren’t doomed to repeat past destructive practices that have emptied the Owens Valley and caused the literal collapse of the San Joaquin Valley,” asserted Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance’s Executive Director. “We are smart enough now to know that the Twin Tunnels would destroy California’s largest river’s watershed and valley, which is essential for the health of the entire state. “

To that end, some of the most significant CEQA allegations produced by AquAlliance in the lawsuit to stop the WaterFix include that the EIR:

  • Failed to identify the source water that is intended to make up for flows diverted through the Twin Tunnels.
  • Failed to disclose the over appropriation of water rights in the Sacramento River Watershed.
  • Failed to disclose the existing conditions of Sacramento Valley groundwater.
  • Failed to disclose and analyze the direct and indirect groundwater impacts to the AquAlliance Press Release Twin TunnelsSacramento Valley that would result from expanded north-to south, cross-Delta water transfers.

Click link to view the full press release: AquAlliance Press Release Twin Tunnels

Why is the state withholding asbestos records at Oroville Dam?

6.7.2017– By Ryan Sabalow 

In the latest skirmish over transparency at the troubled Oroville Dam, a Northern California activist group has sued state officials alleging they’re illegally withholding information about potentially toxic asbestos.

AquAlliance, a Chico-based advocacy group focused on Sacramento Valley water issues, filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court on Tuesday alleging the Department of Water Resources broke state records laws when it denied the group’s request for emails containing information about the asbestos at the dam. The state did release nine documents, the group said, but not the relevant emails.

The suit claims the DWR told the group the records didn’t exist or were protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege. The group’s executive director, Barbara Vlamis, said she has no idea whether there is anything in the records that could show the state is putting the public at risk, but she doesn’t like the idea of the state hiding information.

“There may be nothing damning at all in the material,” she said. “Well, then, let’s see it.”

An Oroville Dam spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asbestos occurs naturally in certain types of rock around Northern California, but DWR officials have insisted since crews began working on the troubled dam’s badly damaged spillways this winter that there’s no risk to the public. The agency says it’s also taking steps to keep asbestos dust out of the lungs of those working on the dam.

The suit is the latest in a tug of war between the state and members of the public over Oroville Dam records.

The state has denied the Sacramento Bee’s requests for certain technical documents and dam safety records. The agency also hasn’t yet fulfilled a request the paper made in February seeking emails from top DWR officials during the spillway crisis that triggered the evacuation of 188,000 people.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalowrsabalow@sacbee.com

Lawsuit Filed Against DWR over Oroville Dam Records

Chico, CA. – AquAlliance filed a lawsuit in state court on June 6, 2017 against the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) over its failure to release records related to the Oroville Dam main and emergency spillways crisis that started in February 2017.

On April 19, 2017 AquAlliance filed a Public Records Act (“PRA”) request to DWR to release records that explicitly pertained to the asbestos. The asbestos was uncovered by the break in the main spillway and then further eroded by the massive water released at the main spillway that was necessary due to the near failure of the emergency spillway. AquAlliance has been concerned about the extent of the asbestos material and how it did or will affect workers, Oroville residents, and aquatic species. In response to the request, DWR released nine documents, none of which included any e-mail communication. When questioned further, DWR claimed that there are no more responsive records and that all responsive e-mails are protected under attorney-client privilege.

AquAlliance disagrees and is asking the court to enforce the PRA. “DWR’s culture is bound by secrecy to protect its image and its very slanted focus, which is to maximize water exports to its contractors,” expressed Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance’s Executive Director. “AquAlliance strongly believes that the public’s right to know is essential in a democracy and legally enforceable1, something we are happy to take on,” she continued.

Additional Contacts: Paul Nicholas Boylan, Esq. (530) 400-1653.

Complaint: Click link to view the Complaint filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Sacramento — AQ3 – PWM_060617.

1 “The public’s right to access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in California.”(Government Code § 6250.)

Brown’s twin tunnels will hurt the delta

May 15, 2017 — Gov. Jerry Brown is never more convincing than when he is blasting President Donald Trump for his failure to make policy decisions based on the best science available.

It’s too bad the governor doesn’t see the hypocrisy of his approach to the delta tunnels project, which has clearly stated coequal goals of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability.

Brown told the Sacramento Bee in December that “ the best scientific thinking says California needs the project.”

It is a Trumpian fallacy.

Building the tunnels will produce a more reliable source of water for the bottom half of California, but federal scientists have been saying for years that the massive $17 billion project will also only make things worse for the fragile delta, the largest estuary west of the Mississippi that is responsible for much of the state’s drinking water.

A recently released draft analysis of Brown’s delta tunnels project — this one by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service — adds another scientific voice saying the project not only won’t help the salmon and delta smelt populations, it also will likely do additional damage.

Specifically, the draft report says, “ using the best science available, the Fish Agencies have provided evidence that some aspects of the proposed action will have significant adverse effects on listed species and critical habitat.”

Among other issues, it is expected that delta smelt habitat would be negatively impacted for 10 years during construction and that the project would result in killing an additional 7 percent of the Chinook salmon winter run, doing further harm to a valued endangered species. The scientists also say the proposed habitat restoration isn’t enough to offset environmental damage.

The report is undergoing review and is subject to change, but the conclusions about the detrimental impact on salmon runs and the delta smelt are similar to previous scientific reviews.

In 2016, the Delta Independent Science Board found gaping holes in the tunnel project. The board reviewed the project’s draft environmental impact review and found it contained no analysis of how the project would affect the existing delta levee system, the impacts of climate change or alternatives to building the tunnels.

In 2012, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences took a comprehensive look at the twin-tunnel plan and found it riddled with holes and inconsistencies, including the failure to examine the potential to reduce demand for delta water through conservation.

The science on the delta is clear. The only way to restore the delta’s health is to get more water flowing through it, not less. And if you believe Southern California water districts are fighting for a $17 billion system that will give them not a drop more water, you win a free tour of the Owens Valley.

Copyright © 2017 Chico Enterprise-Record.

New Questions Over California Water Project

AP NewsBreak
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press
August 12, 2016, 3:02 am ET

SAN FRANCISCO — Critics and a state lawmaker say they want more explanations on who’s paying for a proposed $16 billion water project backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, after a leading California water district said Brown’s administration was offering government funding to finish the planning for the two giant water tunnels.

Critics said the government funding described by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District on Thursday could run counter to longstanding state assurances that various local water districts, not California itself, would pay for Brown’s vision of digging twin 35-mile-long tunnels to carry water from the Sacramento River south, mainly for Central and Southern California. The $248 million in preliminary spending for the tunnels, which have yet to win regulatory approval, already is the topic of an ongoing federal audit. On Wednesday, state lawmakers ordered a state audit of the tunnels-spending as well.

On Thursday, state spokeswoman Nancy Vogel said that despite the account of the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, no money from the state’s general fund would be used finishing the current planning phase of the twin tunnels. However, opponents of the tunnels and a taxpayer group were critical Thursday, and Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, one of the state lawmakers behind this week’s audit order, asked the state Thursday for clarification.

“It’s a shell game,” said David Wolfe, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s legislative director. “I think it comes back to the audit (request) yesterday: There are way more questions here than there are answers.”

The tunnels project is endorsed by Brown and by some politically influential water districts and water customers in Central and Southern California. Supporters say the tunnels would benefit the environment and offer Californians a more secure water supply. Opponents say they fear the state will use the tunnels to divert too much water from the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay, harming Northern California and further endangering native species there.

Metropolitan and other water districts slated to get water from the tunnels have yet to commit to paying for them, out of uncertainty whether the massive spending would really bring them enough water to make the cost worthwhile. The same water districts also announced this year they would not pay to complete the current preliminary work on the tunnels unless the project first won regulatory approval.

On Thursday, a monthly report published by the LA-based water district on the tunnels project said, “the state has indicated that any additional funding needs to complete the planning phase will be provided by state or federal sources.”

After all that local water districts had spent on the project, including $63 million from his water district, “This is to be expected” that the state would use government money to close out planning, said Bob Muir, spokesman for the LA-based water district. He referred further questions to Vogel, the state spokeswoman.

Vogel said the state intended to pull money to finish the tunnels planning from user fees for an existing, half-century-old water network, the State Water Project.

Tunnel opponents, however, point to a measure state lawmakers passed in 2009 that they say bars the state from spending money on the tunnels until the water agencies that would benefit commit to paying for them.

“Project contractors pledged to pay for this project and they’ve used financial gimmicks to get around this obligation,” said Patricia Schifferle, an environmental consultant and longtime opponent of the proposed tunnels. “It raises questions as to where this money was suddenly found.”


Don Thompson contributed from Sacramento, Calif.



Fixing Oroville Dam will cost hundreds of millions. Who should pay the bill?

By Jim Miller, The Sacramento Bee, 4.25.17