Wayward stewardship

North-south tensions laid bare at hearing over fate of Delta Stewardship Council

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the May 3, 2018, issue.

A few days after calling the Delta Stewardship Council “a shill” for Gov. Jerry Brown and his controversial twin tunnels project, Assemblyman Jim Frazier attempted to forward a bill that would abolish the statewide coalition altogether. While the legislative attempt fell flat, the lively exchange it sparked revealed not everyone is sold on Brown’s $17 billion legacy project.

The Delta Stewardship Council is a state-sanctioned governing body created in 2009 to balance monitoring of the state’s water supply with restoring the Delta’s fragile ecosystem. Frazier, who represents the Delta cities of Antioch, Brentwood and Oakley, says it has done anything but. He noted that four of the council’s seven members are Brown appointees and claimed they’ve been operating as a “tunnels stewardship council.” On April 24, Frazier appeared before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee to try to advance his Assembly Bill 1876, which would essentially replace the Delta Stewardship Council with another governing group, the Delta Protection Agency.

“The council has gone out of its way to suppress input from Delta interests,” Frazier told the committee. “The council too often acts as a rubber stamp for the interests of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, to force through the twin tunnels plan.”

Sacramento County Supervisor Don Notolli, a former member of the Delta Stewardship Council, also supported eliminating the council. “The current construct of the DSC is not a true representation of the Delta community,” Notolli said at the hearing. Representatives from Yolo, Contra Costa, Solano and San Joaquin counties expressed support for Frazier’s bill during the hearing.

The main witness testifying in favor of the Delta Stewardship Council was Cathy Coal of the Metropolitan Water District. “We view Mr. Frazier’s bill as an attempt to frustrate efforts to move forward with fair and balanced solutions in the Delta,” she said.

More than a dozen lobbyists for various Southern California water districts also slammed the bill.

Frazier’s bill died in committee on a 7-0 vote, with half the members refusing to vote.

Frazier did, however, draw sympathy from committee member Devon Mathis, a Republican assemblyman from Visalia who said leaders should be answering water problems through advances in desalinization technology rather than threatening the state’s most delicate estuary. “I’m sick of hearing our only option is the Delta,” Mathis said. “Especially when we look at a $17 billion price tag, which goes straight to the taxpayers.”

Committee member Steven Choi, an Orange County Republican, felt differently. Choi and Frazier openly debated about the costs of getting more water south—a cost that hits communities and wildlife. Choi, who sits on a committee with the word ‘wildlife’ in its name, told Frazier he wasn’t worried about wildlife.

“Sir, this isn’t about abundance of water, this is about the decimation of an ecosystem that could be completely ruined by the approach of a few people,” Frazier said during the exchange.