After years of behind-the-scenes exclusionary negotiations over the Bay-Delta Voluntary Agreements, earlier this week the state made a clumsy attempt to whitewash these proposed Voluntary Agreements, sending this email inviting a handful of people who had participated in VA conversations years ago to participate in “two workshops to finalize the governance and decision-making process for the implementation of the AV program.” (DWR then sent a revised email to the NRDC and several other organizations, while excluding many tribes, conservation groups and other stakeholders.)
Inviting previously excluded groups to join a meeting to “finalize” voluntary agreements is not a legitimate collaborative process. Indeed, the conservation groups that participated in the VA negotiations between 2012 and 2019 repeatedly raised major concerns – concerns that were repeatedly ignored and never addressed, as these conservation groups did not never been equal partners in this process. The NRDC will not participate in this fictitious collaboration to “finalize” a plan that will likely eliminate salmon and other endangered species in the Bay-Delta. Restore the Delta also declined this invitation, explaining here eloquently that it was not a true collaboration.
But the problems run deeper, because the governance and decision-making scheme proposed in the voluntary agreement process is inherently flawed. It is designed to empower participating water districts to have even more of a say in decision-making and what constitutes ‘science’.
Giving entrepreneurs more weight on the science is problematic because participating water districts — and the California Department of Water Resources — have a vested interest in trying to show that fish don’t need water to qu they can divert ever more water from this endangered area. watershed. The DWR and these Aquatic Districts have spent decades using junk science and “combat science” to attempt to manufacture scientific doubt about the importance of flow, using this “science” in order to fight the protection of water. environment for salmon and other endangered species. For example:
- In the mid-2000s, the Department of Water Resources, Westlands Water District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, State Water Contractors, and other water districts asserted that Delta Smelt was not threatened with extinction by the operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project (they were, as demonstrated by numerous scientific studies and the 2007 district court order invalidating the Bush administration’s biological advisory).
- In 2008 and 2009, the California Department of Water Resources and many of those same water districts sued the Obama administration in an attempt to overturn scientifically justified protections for endangered delta smelt and salmon. (they lost both lawsuits, with the Court of Appeal fully upholding the biological protection notices in accordance with the Endangered Species Act).
- Many of these water districts paid scientists to develop articles that claimed the real problem was something other than water. For example, water contractors paid for a study that claimed ammonium from water treatment plants was the cause of declines in delta smelt and other species in the delta, but that study was debunked in peer-reviewed research, showing basic statistical flaws in the original article. . The water contractors also funded a study which claimed that entrainment and destruction of Delta Smelt at the pumps did not cause population decline, but this study was also debunked by later peer-reviewed studies, including one (Rose et al 2013a) which showed the original paper used statistical sleight of hand to ignore training effects.
- Many of these water districts continue to defend the biological views of the Trump administration in 2019 in court, claiming that the Trump administration’s reduction of environmental protections to increase water diversions for these contractors is based on the best science available and will not harm the salmon or Delta Smelt (these bio advisories are an extinction plan, which we are watching in real time as Delta Smelt soars towards extinction and these bio advisories allow the deadly temperatures of water that killed 75% of endangered chinook salmon last year and are likely to kill over 50% this year). Indeed, entrepreneurs at the Sacramento River Colony argued in court earlier this year that decades of peer-reviewed scientific studies were flawed and that water temperatures would need to exceed 56 degrees Fahrenheit to kill. endangered salmon eggs.
If you wouldn’t trust the oil companies or the tobacco companies to tell you what’s safe for the planet or your health, why would you trust those water agencies – who make their living selling water? Bay-Delta water and have spent the past two decades undermining environmental protections for salmon and other endangered species — to say what’s good for fish and wildlife in the Bay-Delta watershed? Yet that is what voluntary agreements would do: further empower these water districts to decide what constitutes good science and how much water the environment needs, in a spirit of “collaboration”. It’s the kind of collaboration that keeps the fox guarding the henhouse.
True collaboration is difficult. This requires transparency, trust, agreed facts and common interests. Voluntary agreements are the antithesis of this – they are an exercise undertaken in bad faith by state agencies, conducted in secret through behind-the-scenes negotiations, using misleading “facts” and junk science, in order to put a huge thumb on the scale in favor of increased diversion of water by state and federal water project contractors at the expense of salmon, delta communities, fishing jobs, the environment, and older water rights holders in the basin Bay-Delta side.