House Democrats want water deal rescinded

Five Northern California House Democrats demanded answers Monday from the Interior Department on the Bay-Delta planning process, urging the department to rescind a “flawed” deal developed behind closed doors.

That memorandum of agreement, they say, gives water export agencies south of the Delta and in Southern California unprecedented influence over a public process affecting California’s fresh water supplies.

Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; and Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking that the agreement his department made with the water agencies be withdrawn and the process be opened up to include other key stakeholders left out of the discussions, including Bay Area, Delta and coastal communities, farmers, businesses, and fishermen.

“Interior should immediately rescind this flawed MOA and work instead to establish a successful BDCP (Bay-Delta Conservation Plan) process that is transparent and based on parity, and that genuinely puts the restoration of the Bay-Delta and its fisheries, the needs of local communities, and the quality of local water resources on par with other water supply goals,” the lawmakers wrote.

They claim the agreement includes an unreasonable timeline and raises expectations of favorable treatment for the water agencies that signed it.

The agencies’ desired policies “have the potential to harm the Bay-Delta, fishing communities, local farmers, and our constituents more broadly,” the lawmakers wrote. “They compromise Interior’s ability to exercise its mandates to restore the Bay-Delta ecosystem and California’s fisheries, and to consider the interests of all stakeholder groups. And they were developed in closed-door negotiations with the water export contractors that excluded all other interests.”

The lawmakers met repeatedly recently with Interior Department and California officials to express their concerns about the agreement signed with water export agencies, and the department had told them to expect an answer to their inquiries early last week. None came, and today’s letter demands a written response from Salazar by next Monday.

Interior Department press secretary Adam Fetcher said the letter was received and the department will respond directly to the House members.

“Secretary Salazar has been clear that California’s complex water problems require science-based solutions developed as part of a close partnership between the federal and state government, as well as all key stakeholders,” he said. “Transparency and accessibility for all parties in this process is a key part of our efforts to move forward with the BDCP as quickly as possible in order to address the all-important goals of a healthy Bay Delta ecosystem and a reliable water supply for California.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.