On April 25, five Congressional Democrats called for a top Brown Administration official’s immediate resignation after Natural Resources Deputy Director Jerry Meral made a controversial statement that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels is not about restoring the Bay Delta ecosystem.
Responding to the Northern California Representatives, a Natural Resources Agency spokesman Friday defended Meral and dismissed calls for his resignation.
A joint statement from Representatives George Miller, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Doris Matsui and Anna Eshoo said, "Despite repeated Administration assurances to the contrary, Deputy Director Meral acknowledged in a meeting with Northern California stakeholders last week that 'BDCP is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved.'"
"Meral’s statement, if accurately reported, suggests the Brown Administration intends to explicitly violate the established statutory co-equal goals of ecosystem restoration in the Bay-Delta and water reliability throughout the state," according to the Representatives' statement. "This fuels speculation that the Administration’s plan, if unchanged, will devastate the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the communities that rely on it, a concern that Northern California Lawmakers and other stakeholders have voiced throughout the process."
“Director Meral’s comments suggest the Brown Administration has violated the public trust," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (CA-11). "He needs to be held accountable for that. And now the Administration needs to be forthcoming as to whether they intend to honor their stated goal to restore the region’s already struggling habitat, or whether this is simply a water grab which will drive the Bay-Delta to ruin. Based on his comments, Deputy Director Meral should resign immediately."
Meral made his controversial comments while speaking with Tom Stokely of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) in a private conversation after a meeting with Northern California Indian Tribes on Monday, April 15, according to Restore the Delta's "Delta Flows" newsletter (http://www.restorethedelta.org/...)
"I was flabbergasted because that's not what we've been told by politicians and state officials," said Stokely after the conversation. "I was surprised at his candor because I've always known that BDCP is not about restoring the Delta."
"It's therefore ironic that the Brown administration is calling this a Bay Delta Conservation Plan," emphasized Stokely. "You can keep the same acronym, but in reality it's the Bay Delta CONVEYANCE Plan. It is and always has been about moving water, not saving the Delta."
"Now if Governor Brown and State officials would just stop pretending it's a habitat plan to save fish when speaking with the press," according to Restore the Delta (RTD).
"We did not put the statement out for publicity gain or just to try to embarrass somebody," Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, RTD Executive Director, who witnessed Meral make the comment. "The reason we let this statement out was to show the true intent of the tunnels project," which she said is to increase pumping Delta water south.
Both Stokely and Barrigan-Parrilla said Meral had been speaking about his concern that a "mega-flood" could inundate the Central Valley someday, as it did in 1861-62, when Meral made his statement.
A spokesman for the Natural Resources Agency, headed by Secretary John Laird, told the LA Times the remarks were “taken out of context” and that there are no plans calling for Meral’s resignation.
“The administration remains deeply committed to maintaining a healthy Delta ecosystem,” said agency spokesman Richard Stapler. “In fact, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan invests $7.5 billion 'to preserve and restore the region.'" (http://www.latimes.com/...)
The Governor's Office has not yet responded to my request for a response to the Representatives' call for the Deputy Director's resignation.
Besides Miller, other Congressional Representatives blasted Meral for claiming that “BDCP is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved."
“While I find the statement made by Dr. Meral to be on its face extremely disappointing, the larger issue I have is with the way the State of California has led the BDCP effort in general," said U.S. Rep. Doris O. Matsui (CA-6). "Despite repeated requests from northern California to have a real role in development of the plan we have continued to be shut out of the process. A project in our backyard of this magnitude simply cannot be done without northern California interests at the table.”
U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (CA-9) said, “The Brown Administration continues to fail the Delta and its residents. We all share a desire to improve the Delta and ensure that the families, farmers, and small business owners in this region are made a part of the process. Director Meral’s statement that the Delta will inevitably be destroyed is unacceptable. There must be accountability, and Delta residents need to know if the Governor is committed to restoring the region. I stand willing and eager to work with the administration to address these needs, but only if they are forthright in their efforts.”
"Deputy Director Meral’s statement is contrary to everything he and his colleagues have told us in the past," said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5). "If BDCP is not about restoring the Delta, then it’s all about shipping water to the south at the expense of our farming families, fishing families, wildlife and the environment. Meral and his friends are trying to rob families of their water and livelihoods. We deserve to have someone committed to protecting the Delta.”
U.S. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) stated, “For Deputy Director Meral to utter the shocking statement that ‘the Delta cannot be saved’ makes him eligible for Former Deputy Director of Natural Resources. The Brown Administration’s plan for the Bay Delta needs to be reversed from more water for Southern California to saving the Delta. Period.”
Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, quipped that Meral's claim that the "Delta cannot be saved" was "clearly a statement of someone waiting for imminent rapture so it doesn't matter what happens to the Delta."
"We've gone from earthquakes, to ark storms, to we can't save it anyway - it doesn't matter," said Jennings. "Meral's statement is not surprising because nothing that the BDCP has put forth is a credible plan to protect the estuary. Of course the Delta can't be saved if the BDCP is going to take all of the water and ship it south for cotton, pomegramates and pistachios."
In other BDCP news, Restore the Delta said the Brown Administration "appears to have canceled" a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis of its BDCP proposal for Peripheral Tunnels to export Sacramento -San Joaquin/San Francisco Bay-Delta water, mainly to benefit unsustainable mega-farms on the west side of the Central Valley.
"The decision to hide the total costs from public scrutiny once again reveals how the Brown Administration is continuing to doctor up the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a fatally flawed plan, in order to sell it as something that it’s not to Californians," according to a news release from RTD.
RTD Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla (http://www.restorethedelta.org) said, “In refusing to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the Peripheral Tunnels, the Brown Administration is not following the guidelines established by its own agencies. In its rush to build a project that would exterminate salmon runs, destroy sustainable family farms and saddle taxpayers with tens of billions in debt, mainly to benefit a small number of huge corporate agribusinesses on the west side of the Central Valley, the Administration has yet to complete a valid cost-benefit analysis of its Tunnels and seriously examine a no-tunnels solution."
"It’s little wonder the Brown Administration is backing away from a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. The only one done to date showed the costs were $7 billion short of the costs," Barrigan-Parrilla add