Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior under Pres. Bill Clinton, is calling for a “Grand Water Bargain” for California as he did in 1994 when he was formerly Secretary of the Interior under Pres. Bill Clinton. Babbitt was the advocate of the failed 1994 Cal-Fed Bay-Delta Accord when Republican Pete Wilson was governor.
But Babbitt’s unsolicited proposal is not grand because he leaves out the Trump administration as well as environmentalists who have obstructed nearly every water storage project in the last 50 years. This gives rise to speculation that he is using his proposal to primp for a position in any future Biden-Harris administration.
Babbitt is critical of Gov. Newsom for not quantifying how much water the proposed Delta tunnel and Sites Reservoir would allocate to each competing interest.
Babbitt is correct that Gov. Newsom’s new Water Resilience Portfolio does not quantify a maximum amount of water flow through a Delta Tunnel. But Newsom’s Portfolio is not a technical plan but merely a laundry list of hoped-for projects.
However, Babbitt fails to recognize that Newsom’s inclusion of the proposed Sites Reservoir in his Portfolio is not a state-funded water project. The Sites Reservoir is a locally-funded project of a group of Sacramento area water agencies and irrigation districts that have quantified its capacity, yield and costs, contrary to Babbitt’s contention otherwise.
Babbitt cites a 2018 article – “Why San Francisco is Joining Valley farmers in a fight over precious California water” – as proof that there is a tacit consensus among farmers and cities to develop more water supplies instead of letting it flow to the ocean. Babbitt is poising himself as a therapeutic mediator between these competing water interests.
But Babbitt is an environmentalist with few credentials with farmers. Babbitt, has been head of the League of Conservation Voters, commissioner on the Three Mile Island Commission, trustee of the World Wildlife Fund, board member of the American Conservation Association and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Babbitt may have some Democrat political capital with powerful Democrat-controlled Southern California cities, as he once ran as Democrat Party candidate for president in 1988.
But Babbitt’s Bargain omits any involvement with the Federal government. Contrary to the impression of Babbitt’s article, neither Delta landowners nor California have complete water sovereignty, as 52 percent of the imported annual water yield is owned and operated by the Federal government (7 million acre-feet MAF water/year). The State Water Project (SWP – 2.4 MAF) and the Colorado River Aqueduct (4 MAF) are the other two main sources of imported water.
Other than historical water rights, the Delta does not have superiority over imported water as it depends on water from Federal reservoirs in Northern California just as Southern California cities do. What protects the Delta is the 1986 State Appeals Court Rancanelli Decision to consider in-stream needs of the Delta when setting water quality standards. Babbitt’s Bargain fails to address the mystery of missing water released from federal dams that somehow never gets to the Delta.
Babbitt’s Bargain also omits the issue of the proposed demolition of the Klamath River dams. The Klamath River and dams are not part of California’s water distribution system even though they were once proposed to be included but were replaced with the Colorado River Aqueduct. The current Democrat proposal to demolish the dams lacks any engineering plan or funding to deal with the massive flooding and release of built-up contaminated silt from behind the dams that would cost billions to clean up. The U.S. Department of Interior has pulled its support for removing the dams.
Babbitt fails to explain how he would bargain with the Trump administration which is likely to win election again. Nor does he indicate he would be willing to deal with California’s powerful Republican pro-water voting block of Congressmen Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy, Tom McClintock, Doug LaMalfa and Ken Calvert.
Babbitt’s Bargain additionally fails to mention conservative Ed Ring’s quantified “grand water bargain” that would provide more water for all California water interests.
Babbitt contends that “the Trump administration has increased exports to the Central Valley by manipulating regulations, subverting scientific findings and pressuring federal officials to meet its demands.”
Babbitt, age 82, wants to return to the old, failed therapeutic mediation water policies of the past that were an empty water carrier for California.
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