FOR’s New Executive Director – Eric Wesselman
Friends of the River has been the voice for California’s
rivers for forty years and I couldn’t be more excited to be working with FOR’s
many supporters and partners to make sure that voice is loud and strong. For the last eight years I served as the
Executive Director of the Tuolumne River Trust, building a watershed-wide
institution by expanding the organization's capacity to deliver cutting-edge
programs to protect and restore that river.
Now I’m looking to do the same on behalf of more rivers in California at
a time when they desperately need our help.
Having worked for an organization focused on a specific river, I can tell you that we need a stronger and more coordinated statewide river protection movement, and FOR is the only institution in the state that can fill that role. While local river groups need support, there are many other rivers in California that don’t have a group like the Tuolumne River Trust or the South Yuba River Citizens League. Those rivers need FOR. And FOR needs more capacity to be able to do that job well at this critical time.
Prior to working on the Tuolumne River, I worked for the Sierra Club on water and energy policy in California, and the Union of Concerned Scientists on energy and climate change in Washington, D.C. But my roots are in grassroots organizing for electoral and environmental issue campaigns
A Special Thanks to Bob Center
I also want to express my thanks and gratitude to Bob Center, on behalf of all of us at FOR, for serving as the Executive Director for the last two years. Bob effectively guided the organization through a transition period and built a stable foundation that will serve us well as we build our capacity to protect and restore California’s rivers. Bob continues to be active with FOR, especially on the Yuba River, and we wish him the very best.
A Few Words About the Drought
After the driest year on record, and the third consecutive dry year, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on January 17th. We are indeed in a crisis—quite a way to start my tenure at FOR!
Some decision makers are cynically using the drought to gut environmental protections and push dams and diversions that would cost billions of dollars, do immense harm to rivers, and do nothing to deal with this drought. Spending billions to build more dams and diversions won’t make it rain.
Congressman Valadao and other Republican Congressmen in the
San Joaquin Valley have already introduced H.R.
3964---a nasty piece of legislation that would suspend environmental
laws to INCREASE pumping from the San Francisco Bay-Delta, STOP the San Joaquin
River restoration program, and REPEAL Wild & Scenic protections for the
Merced River so they can bury more of that river under McClure Reservoir. This bill is likely to be taken up by the
U.S. House of Representatives next week!
These efforts to dam and divert our rivers distract and
delay us from implementing real solutions.
Instead of spending billions of dollars to build new dams to capture
water that isn’t there, California must lead the nation in investing in wise
water use so we can reduce, reuse and recycle more of our water. And with 38 million people in California
talking about water, the drought does present a remarkable opportunity to
educate the public and build support for water solutions that are responsible,
balanced and sustainable.
FOR is already advocating for balanced solutions in the public policy arena and the media. We are also organizing like-minded organizations across the state to leverage our combined capacity. With your support, we are working to address this statewide water emergency and prepare for a future where climate change will make these droughts more common and severe.
Ron Stork, Sr. Policy Advocate
I write this as storm clouds are gathering, perhaps to
provide a little break in the most intense year-long drought in California's
history. However, the 90-day forecasts are still predicting dry conditions for
the rest of California's rainy season.
The longer drought of the past few years has exhausted many reservoirs, and water districts dependent on surface water all over California are making plans to curtail deliveries this coming spring, summer, and fall in ways not previously seen in the state.
On the more speculative front, climatologists suggest that
California is in the dry phase of the Pacific Decadal oscillation, which by its
very name could mean that we could be in for a multi-year dry period. And some
climate history folks remind us that California and the southwest have had much
longer and very dry droughts in the recent Holocene (we're in the Holocene now)
that appear to have allowed trees to grow in what now are well-established
These are tough times for water in rivers too---as well as
for the life that is sustained by this water. But it's also a time for emotional
appeals from politicians for more dams to make more water. After all, didn't
that always work in the past?
Well, maybe, but once you've captured and diverted most or
sometimes all of the water into the giant dams and canals of the mid-twentieth
century, what more is left? And in a long drought, won't even the old dams just
stand empty just like any new ones dreamed up by politicians?
In long droughts, demand has to adjust to no more than
nature can supply. The arithmetic is inescapable. Responsible adults know that.
Perhaps it's time for politicians to join the responsible adults.
Some Lessons Learned
Friends of the River is a party to the Sacramento Water
Forum Agreement, an agreement amongst most of the jurisdictions in the American
River watershed to improve regional water-supply sustainability and the life of
the American River at the same time. Not an easy thing to do in this or any
The agreement limits surface-water diversions (particularly
in times of drought), begins water-conservation in this traditionally fairly
profligate region, agrees to infrastructure needed for dry years, establishes a
sustainable level of groundwater pumping, and calls for regional conferences to
do what is necessary when water is critically scarce.
It's helped. The groundwater has not been exhausted and is
still there in abundance when the rains fail. Water demand is down, and some
dry-year infrastructure is now in place that would not be otherwise.
Of course, the vagaries of utility personnel and politics
and the hard economic times of the last half decade means that some area
surface-water diverters still find themselves with limited supply options. They
may have to impose unprecedented water-conservation efforts to weather such an
intense drought. If the rains do not materialize this spring, it will be
difficult in some communities. Very difficult.
But the Sacramento region has the community resilience to do
what needs to be done to get through this drought---while still respecting the
rivers that grace the state capital. I encourage folks from all over the state
to watch and see how we do it.
California Water Bond
The California legislature agreed to place a water bond on
the ballot with up to $4.8 billion for dams (much of it on an already bone-dry San
Joaquin River), along with money to help fund projects in the Delta associated
with the "restoration" portions of the "twin tunnels"
project of the BDCP. With the drought grabbing much of the headlines, the
pressure to let this measure go before the voters is increasing.
It's competing with some other slimmed downed water bonds
for attention in the legislature. For any of the other bonds to make it to the
ballot, a two-thirds vote is required. It would take a two-thirds vote to
change the existing bond, but only a majority vote to delay it.
This makes it fairly easy for the "let's spend money on
deadbeat dams" crowd to hold the bonds hostage in exchange for
concessions. Drought politics are pushing a bad bond forward against the
natural caution of perhaps a majority in the legislature who have an environmental
conscience. We don't know how this will play out, but it very well may depend
on appeals to the conscience of legislators. Let's never forget that.
Well, Speaker of the House John Boehner paid the state a
visit with his prescription for drought relief: suspend the state and federal
laws meant to protect the public trust and deliver water that is not there to
the parched desert lands of Bakersfield. Nice try, but California already has a
way to allocate scarce water in a drought---and the state water project (the
area project in question) has some of the lowest priority water in the state.
It's a process foul to step in the front of the line using political muscle
instead of long-established legal principles. Shame on the Speaker.
Rep. Tom McClintock's predecessor promised to help
"sweeten the Salton Sea" if only Auburn dam could be built. Expect
some more federal political theater against the state's decision to strip the
long-delayed Auburn dam project on the American River of its state water rights.
And there's that pesky federal wild & scenic river system that the good
Congressman still wants to dismantle. His Merced wild & scenic river
de-designation bill, HR 934, is still waiting action on the House of
The bill cleared the House last year and there's little hope
of stopping it this year given the makeup of the House. What your Senator
thinks will make the difference here.
Remembering our River Heritage
Droughts have a way of uncovering the bones of rivers long
buried under reservoirs. It's time to go see what we've lost. Visit these
rivers. Boat them if you can. Take photos and video. Our conversations about
the significance of our river heritage can only be improved if the river
community can have and share some tangible evidence of these once vibrant
BDCP Free Speech Suppression
Bob Wright, Senior Legal Counsel
When our country was formed, people peaceably assembled in
order to hear each other’s views on matters of public importance. Informed
public debate is the hallmark of our democracy. The modern equivalent of the
venerable town-hall/public-park assembly is the public comment process via the
Internet on proposed major government actions. Americans have fought wars to
retain these freedoms. The BDCP proponent agencies, however, seem intent upon
wresting these hard-earned freedoms from the public. These freedoms have been
suppressed by these agencies’ decision to stop posting critical comment letters
on the established project website.
Water Tunnels are identified as Alternative 4, DWR’s Preferred Alternative.
(BDCP Draft EIR/EIS, 3-3). The Water Tunnels are one of, if not the most,
controversial proposed public works projects in California history. What can be
found on the BDCP (Bay Delta Conservation Plan) website are the 40,000 pages of the consultant prepared Plan
and EIR/EIS documents which the federal Bureau of Reclamation, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and United
States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),
have previously called “advocacy”
and/or “biased” documents for the BDCP Water Tunnels project.
What cannot be found on the BDCP website is the January 14,
2014, Friends of the River initial comment letter explaining among other things
that the Water Tunnels project “is not a permissible project under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) because it would adversely modify designated
critical habitat for at least five Endangered and Threatened fish species.”
What also cannot be found on the BDCP website is the December 19, 2013,
Environmental Water Caucus (EWC) (a coalition of more than 30 public interest
organizations) letter requesting that the public review and comment period be
extended from April 14, 2014, to August 15, 2014. The EWC letter explains that “there
are 40,214 actual pages of the released documents” and that “these documents
represent 20% more pages than the 32 volumes of the last printed edition of the
To explain the change in policy regarding posting of
correspondence on the BDCP website, the following language now appears under
“Correspondence”: “In order to maintain
the integrity of the formal public review period, incoming correspondence will
not be available via the website beginning December 13, 2013 to the close of
the public comment period April 14, 2014.”
The obvious purpose of refusing to post comment letters is
to hide critical comments from the public.
It limits the information available to the public to the pro-BDCP Water
Tunnels documents posted in December 2013. This restriction is an
unconstitutional and unlawful exercise of viewpoint discrimination by the State
agencies, the Resources Agency, and DWR - aided and abetted by the participating
federal agencies: NMFS, which is receiving the comments but not posting them on
a website, and USFWS, and Reclamation.
The First Amendment prohibits viewpoint discrimination. This restriction
is also an unlawful denial of public access to the comments prohibited by the
The exclusion of public comments from the BDCP website makes
the claim that the BDCP encourages public participation a lie, and violates the
First Amendment, California Constitution, NEPA, and CEQA. This blatant viewpoint
discrimination will not be tolerated.
Our rivers, the Delta, and the public deserve better!
FOR Submits initial comment letter on the BDCP
Below are excerpts form FOR’s initial comment letter on the
BDCP. The draft plan is over 40,000 pages long and FOR has seven staff
attempting to read through as much of the document as we can. For expects to
submit follow on comment letters and we will continue to share with you our
readers what we find. You can read our entire comment letter here.
January 14, 2014
Dear Federal and California Agencies, Officers, and Staff Members Carrying out
This is our preliminary Comment Letter on the public draft
Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and public draft Environmental Impact
Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) issued in December 2013. This
letter focuses on the adverse modification of critical habitats for five
threatened and endangered fish species that would be caused by the proposed
BDCP Water Tunnels. Extinction is
forever. The fish face an extinction
crisis. The BDCP Water Tunnels would adversely modify designated critical
habits and thus promote species extinction and preclude species recovery. The
BDCP Water Tunnels project is not a permissible project under the Endangered
Species Act (ESA) because it would adversely modify designated critical habitat
for at least five Endangered and Threatened fish species.
This letter follows up our earlier comment letters to you of
June 4, August 13, September 25, and November 18, 2013 (all posted on the BDCP
website) and our meeting with Bureau of Reclamation, National Marine Fisheries
Service (NMFS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and United
States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representatives in Sacramento on
November 7, 2013. We will submit or join in one or more additional comment
letters after we have completed review of as much of the 40,000 pages of BDCP
documents as we are able to review.
PRECLUDING INFORMED PUBLIC REVIEW
The Water Tunnels would divert enormous quantities of water
from the Sacramento River near Clarksburg, California. The water would be
shipped through two giant Tunnels about 40 miles long to the south for
diversion to the Central Valley and State Water Projects. As a result of this
massive diversion, enormous quantities of water that presently flow through the
Sacramento River and sloughs to and through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
would not reach the Delta, and flows would be reduced in the Sacramento River
and sloughs. Also, there would be
adverse cumulative effects ranging from rising sea levels and reduced snowpack
and runoff due to climate change to changes in upstream reservoir operations and
current preservation of flows for fishery purposes all the way upstream to the
Shasta, Trinity, Oroville, and Folsom reservoirs. The Water Tunnels are
identified as Alternative 4, the California Department of Water Resources
(DWR)’ Preferred Alternative. (BDCP Draft EIR/EIS, 3-3).
Consequently, against this threat of extinction, conducting
the draft EIR/EIS public review and comment stage without Biological Opinions
or even Biological Assessments and draft Biological Opinions, leaves the public
in the dark and violates both the ESA and NEPA. Conducting the NEPA
environmental draft process prior to and in a vacuum from the ESA consultation
process violates the ESA command to carry out the ESA process “at the earliest
possible time” and violates the NEPA
command to conduct the NEPA and ESA processes “concurrently” and in an
The public and the decision-makers now have what they do not
need: 40,000 pages of advocacy from the consultants including self-serving
speculation that the adverse effects of reducing flows in the Sacramento River,
sloughs, and Delta will be offset. The public and the decision-makers do not
have what they do need and are entitled to by law: the federal agency
Biological Assessments and Biological Opinions required by the ESA and NEPA.
In the absence of answers to basic questions including ESA
questions about jeopardy of listed fish species and adverse modifications of
designated critical habitats, the draft BDCP EIR/EIS is not sufficient for
informed review by the public and the decision-makers. It will be necessary at
minimum under the ESA, NEPA and CEQA for the federal and state agencies to
prepare, issue, and circulate for public review a new draft EIR/EIS concurrently
with and integrated with Biological Assessments and Biological Opinions. 40
C.F.R. §§ 1502.9(a); 1502.25(a) (NEPA); 14 Code Cal. Regs. §§ 15065(a)(1);
15088.5(a)(CEQA). Then, and only then, would the public and the decision-makers
have the opportunity to engage in meaningful analysis of a preferred project
alternative and informed comparison with other alternatives.
Finally, we reiterate that the BDCP Water Tunnels project is
in fact prohibited by the ESA because it would adversely modify designated
critical habitat for at least five endangered and threatened fish species. The
fact that the ESA required consultations would result in determinations in the
Biological Assessments and Opinions that the preferred project alternative is
prohibited by the ESA does not justify the unlawful evasion and postponement of
TAKE ACTION: Speak Out Against The Delta Tunnels!
Delta “Twin Tunnels” – A Doubled-Barreled Shotgun Aimed At North State Rivers
The long awaited draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)
and its draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement
(EIR/EIS) are now available for review by the public. The government is soliciting
public input on the controversial plan and its proposal to build massive “twin
tunnels” intended to divert fresh water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay
Delta Estuary. Now is your opportunity to speak out against this environmental
travesty at upcoming public meetings and by sending an email opposing this
expensive and destructive water project.
For BDCP public meeting times and locations, and to send
your email opposing this disastrous project TODAY, click here.
January 31, 2014
Volume 4, Number 1
The Voice of California's Rivers
In this issue
Speak Out Against The Delta Tunnels!
Meet FOR's New Executive Director
River Currents by Ron Stork
BDCP - Free Speech Suppression
FOR's Initial BDCP Comment Letter
Drive that wreck into the River - Friends of the River's Bank that is!
Friends of the River now accepts donations of cars, boats, trucks, jet skis and more! In a cooperative effort between Donation Line and FOR your vehicle can be donated to help save our rivers! You must have a clean title. Free Towing & No Hassles. Pick up ASAP.
Call 1-877-227-7487 extension 2811