Another leak: Sacramento County joins action alleging illegal communications over twin tunnels

Department of Water Resources front and center in growing web of controversies

Already facing a lawsuit claiming decades of state mismanagement of the Oroville dam and a “culture of corruption” that fostered harassment, the California Department of Water Resources drew a new legal challenge from Sacramento County—one that accuses its employees of improper communications around the twin tunnels project.

The latest DWR drama was triggered January 15, when attorneys for Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, and the city of Antioch, filed a motion demanding that the State Water Resources Control Board halt the phase-two public hearings for WaterFix, better known as “the twin tunnels” project. The motion claims an attorney named Michael Brodsky, representing Save the California Delta Alliance, used the California Public Records Act to uncover illegal interactions between DWR employees and the team charged with hosting the state’s hearings.

The hearings were scheduled to begin January 18, but have been called off until at least February 2.

DWR is the main agency pushing the controversial twin tunnels forward. Gov. Jerry Brown came under fire last week for appointing Karla Nemeth its new director, after it was discovered her husband is a strategist for a Southern California water district championing the tunnels. The new motion says DWR employees took part in “unlawful ex parte communications” that advised hearing facilitators at the state water board to positively interpret parts of the tunnels’ environmental impact report.

Antioch City Attorney Matthew Emrick argued that state officials need to delay the hearings until it’s clear just how “tarnished” they are by DWR’s actions. “The ex parte communications have the potential to result in an unfair hearing,” Emrick wrote in the motion. “Whether it can be salvaged, in whole or in part, remains to be determined.”

DWR attorney Tripp Mizell filed a motion against stopping the hearings, arguing that his agency’s inside communications don’t pose any risk to a balanced playing field.

Sacramento County’s legal team disagrees. County counsel Robyn Drivon told SN&R it’s vital that attorneys watching out for Delta communities have time to investigate whether the hearing process has been “irreparably compromised.”