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For Immediate Release, January 26, 2011

Contact:  Carolee Krieger, Executive Director, C-WIN, (805) 969-0824
Bill Jennings, Executive Director, CSPA, (209) 464-5067
Adam Keats, Senior Counsel, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 304

Plan for Delta Water Use Should End Big Agriculture Takeover of State Water Project, Groups Say

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.— Environmental and fishery groups this week urged the Delta Stewardship Council to undo the privatization of the State Water Project by San Joaquin Valley industrial agriculture interests. The groups’ letter, providing comments on the upcoming Delta Water Plan, details numerous ways a secret deal made between the Department of Water Resources and State Water Project contractors has diverted state water resources into the bank accounts of big agriculture interests while making water deliveries less reliable for homes and businesses in Southern California.

The environmental groups filed two suits in 2010 to overturn the “Monterey Plus” amendments to the State Water Project’s long-term contracts. The amendments grew out of the secret deal negotiated by the Department and Project contractors in Monterey, Calif., in 1994. Among other changes to the Project’s long-term contracts, the amendments remove the “urban preference” of Project water, which provided that in times of drought, agricultural contractors would have their deliveries reduced before urban contractors. The amendments also provided for the privatization of the Kern Water Bank, the country’s largest underground reservoir, located in Kern County, which was developed by the state in the early 1990s.

“Reinstatement of the urban water preference and public ownership of the Kern Water Bank will uphold promises made to bondholders and ratepayers when the deal was made to build the State Water Project nearly 50 years ago,” said Carolee Krieger, president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), one of the groups seeking to block the contract changes. “The Delta Stewardship Council should ensure through the Delta Plan that protection of bondholders and urban ratepayers is not traded for the benefit of a few agribusiness corporations and real estate developments.”

“The State Water Project and the Kern Water Bank were developed by the state, at ratepayer expense, to benefit all of California — our cities, our farms and our fish,” said Adam Keats, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We want the Delta Stewardship Council to take a hard look at what the benefits to water supply reliability and cost would mean for California’s cities if the promises underlying development of the State Water Project are met and the secret agreement is finally invalidated.”

Two related lawsuits were filed in June and July of 2010 by C-WIN, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Central Delta Water Agency and the South Delta Water Agency (two agencies charged with protecting the in-channel water supply for Delta-area farmers). The suit challenges the legality of the following:
• Institutionalizing the concept of “paper water” — water promised by contract that can never realistically be delivered.
• Eliminating the “urban preference” that prioritized water deliveries to municipal customers during drought. This change resulted in water shortages and ever-increasing utility rates for Southern California ratepayers.
• Illegally transferring state property known as the Kern Water Bank to private entities and undermining the California Water Code by masking the purpose and place of water use.
• Increasing water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, thus worsening water quality problems and triggering the collapse of the Delta’s ecosystem and fisheries.

The lawsuits seek to reinstate the urban water preference during drought in State Water Project contracts, reduce the pumping of Delta water that has resulted in the collapse of fisheries, and return the Kern Water Bank to public ownership. The suits are currently being litigated in Sacramento Superior Court.

“The Monterey Plus Amendments were a poorly negotiated backdoor deal that put the wealthy growers of subsidized crops ahead of fisheries and the need for a sustainable and reliable supply of clean drinking water for California's cities,” said Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance in Stockton. “We want the Delta Stewardship Council to consider reversing a major component of chronic water shortages for California cities and the collapse of Delta ecosystems and our once-great salmon fisheries.”

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For more information on the Monterey Plus Amendments and copies of the letters, see: http://www.c-win.org/monterey-plus-agreement.html and http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/monterey_plus_amendments/index.html.

The California Water Impact Network promotes the equitable and environmental use of California's water, including instream uses, through research, planning, public education and litigation. www.c-win.org

CSPA is a nonprofit conservation and research organization established in 1983 for the purpose of conserving, restoring, and enhancing the state's water quality and fishery resources and their aquatic and riparian ecosystems. www.calsport.org

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org


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