The Battle For The Delta01 May 2017 Written by By Jan MCCleery
Published in May 2017 Articles
Those of us whose lives revolve around the Delta’s shimmering waters are under a threat.
Unless we can stop the project, the proposed Twin Tunnels will seriously diminish our quality of life and will damage our fragile environment possibly beyond repair. The 11-year construction project will move columns of large trucks and earth-moving equipment over our fragile levees. The construction project will install large docking and unloading facilities and destroy boating and recreation areas. It will block off the popular Twin Sloughs waterski and wakeboard channel. Small retail and service businesses will be harmed. Historic communities will have their scenic appeal marred by massive pumps. Even worse, the project will remove immense amounts of fresh water from the Delta resulting in saltwater intrusion that will sterilize Delta farms, golf courses, and properties. Salmon runs will be further threatened.
I’m a founding member of the Save The California Delta Alliance (STCDA) and have been president since 2010. From the beginning we have been carrying on and rabble rousing as advocates for our Delta environment and way of life. Therefore, we were prepared to confront the Twin Tunnel threat and have been at the forefront of opposition to the ill-conceived project. We’ve been enlisting community involvement, posting comments, attending meetings, and complaining to anyone who will listen.
The crux of the Twin Tunnel issue revolves around the failure of the Delta Stewardship Council to impose safe limits on the amount of water that could be removed from the Delta system. In 2009 the legislature set the council up and charged it with the task of writing a Delta plan to protect the environment in addition to providing reliable water for the state. In particular, the Council was instructed to start with the Delta Flow Requirements, which, on the one hand would determine the amount of water required to keep the water fresh and protect the fisheries while, on the other hand, determining the amount of water that could be exported. The original report, published in 2010, declared that too much water was already being removed from the Delta. The Metropolitan Water District and Central Valley farmers wouldn’t accept the answer so the council effectively abandoned their protective role. In 2013 we initiated a lawsuit against the Delta Stewardship Council for their failure to actually provide good stewardship of our precious waters. We finally won the case last November. The Delta Plan has been invalidated until it can be revised to meet the court’s judgment, which includes providing minimum water flows through the Delta. However, the Tunnels Project marches on because the Stewardship Council is ignoring its mandate while holding meetings to essentially rubber-stamp the tunnels.
We continue to fight The Twin Tunnels project using all the resources at our command. Our legal counsel, Michael Brodsky, is investing hundreds of pro bono hours into the project and has become the conscience of the Delta. On March 13 nearly 500 people showed up to a Discovery Bay town hall event. A number of important people attended including County Supervisor Diane Burgess, Assemblyman Jim Frazier, and Senator Steve Glazer. Counselor Brodsky fired up the crowd by declaring that we can beat the Twin Tunnel project through lawsuits and displays of citizen support. His final stirring words “We can win this!” got a rousing cheer.
Citizens again showed up en masse at the Brentwood Community Center on March 23 for a presentation by the Delta Stewardship Council, which is holding a series of meetings around the state to sell the twin tunnels vision. The Council was shocked as the citizens flooded into the room. It is unnecessary to say that they failed to sell it to us.
The EPA has gone on record in support of our claims of the damage the project will do to our environment. In spite of the fact that we are in the right and have made the convincing point that the Twin Tunnels project will create irrevocable damage to the Delta, we are up against powerful forces. Some wealthy and influential Central Valley farmers are intent upon watering their thirsty almond orchards with our Delta water no matter the collateral damage done to our fish and to our way of life. State scientists working on the project have been issued as a non waiverable fact the amount of water that has to go south. President Trump has put his support behind the project, confidently announcing to the farmers, “I’ll get you the water.”
Victory is not assured. But defeat is certain unless we continue to press forward and make every effort possible to turn aside the threats against our way of life and our well-being.
WE DID THIS BEFORE
One of the factors that make us effective in our battle against the Twin Tunnels is that this isn’t our first opportunity to oppose a terrible plan. The story of my involvement as an advocate for preserving our Delta way of life goes back seven years. In 2009 my husband Mike and I were on our Bayliner rafted up with some college friends at the Mildred Island anchorage. A couple of fishermen came by in the morning distributing fliers that warned about the 2-Gates Fish Protection project. One of the guys in the boat was Bobby Barack, a renowned professional who fished competitively for over 25 years before becoming a professional angler and guide.
Bobby’s warning turned out to be timely because construction was scheduled to begin the next month. We discovered that the plan entailed the construction of two gates that would be the equivalent of dams blocking Delta water flow. One of the gates was to be installed in Old River, on the approach to Bethel Island and just to the North of Holland Cut Marina. The other would totally block boat traffic on Connection Slough, between Bethel Island and Mildred Island.
The project would be a disaster for Discovery Bay. It would completely block The project would be a disaster for Discovery Bay. It would completely block access for larger boats on Old River and force them to use the Bacon Island’s unreliable swing bridge on Middle River. The fishermen that day were telling stories about wealthy Central Valley farmers who were determined to push through the 2-Gates project because the gates were not really fish protection gates but salinity gates designed to allow more water to be diverted to the Central Valley Farms.
I didn’t know anything about government at that point but had suddenly become teachable. We attended our next Discovery Bay CSD meeting and showed the flyer to the Contra Costa Water District rep who was there. She was amazed! It was the first she had heard of it. We later learned that our state senator didn’t know about it either. The staff at assemblywoman Joan Buchannan’s office said they knew about it but said that it couldn’t be stopped. We weren’t satisfied with that.
We discovered that the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) was running the show, so we convinced representatives to come to Discovery Bay and tell us about the project. The night before our meeting, they had met with 15 farmers in the Fresno area who had nothing but good things to say about the project. They were unprepared for what awaited them the next day because they showed up at the Discovery Bay Elementary gymnasium and were suddenly confronted by a crowd of 500 angry people. They discovered that Michael A. Brodsky, who later became our legal counsel, knew more about the damage the gates would do and about how the law was supposed to operate than did the presenters themselves.
The USBR representatives were shocked by the anger and by the fact that we were upset about issues that they had never addressed or even were aware of. For example, they didn’t know until that night that Middle River even had a swing bridge. After the meeting ended, some of us gathered at the Yacht Club and formed the STCDA. The members pledged thousands of dollars to fight the project.
We got county supervisor Mary Piepho involved; she called Congressman Jerry McNerney who scheduled a meeting at her Brentwood office, bringing together all the players including representatives from the USBR, Army Corp of Engineers, and the Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC). Mike Guzzardo, Dave Dove, and I represented Discovery Bay.
The USBR reps were shocked at the issue and concern. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) subsequently reviewed the plan and declared that the 2-Gates project would kill more fish than it would protect, so it was withdrawn.
We had defeated a project that Buchanan’s people said couldn’t be stopped.
I was born and raised in Salt Lake City
and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Math from the University of Utah. When I was a sophomore I was one of four women in a physics class that had 200 students. We were sitting in alphabetical order. My maiden name was McClure. The guy next to me was another McClure. Mike McCleery, who was sitting next to him, asked to exchange seats. A month later we were an item. We were married following graduation and both went on to earn our masters degrees.
When Ford Aerospace recruiters came to town, both of us interviewed for positions. Mike had an undergraduate degree in physics but had earned an MBA in graduate school so a business recruiter interviewed him. On the other hand, I was interviewed by a rep from Ford’s Engineering division. The man was delighted to see me. “Oh, you’re an engineer!” he said. When I told him that I was actually a math major, he said, “Almost as good; come right in.” The company was in a diversification mode at the time and was looking for qualified females to fill technical positions. A company policy against hiring couples was in effect, but we both signed employment contracts and were filling out forms for our movers before they discovered we were married.
Mike and I have been fans of the Delta since 1969 when we visited Mike’s fraternity buddy Brian, who had been raised in Brentwood and was a graduate of Liberty High. Brian took us waterskiing out of Orwood Resort and we were hooked. We lived in Sunnyvale for 30 years but kept a series of boats at Russo’s Marina and would regularly go waterskiing. When they were old enough, our two daughters enjoyed going on the Delta with us. In fact, both of them became competitors on their college waterski teams. They are still as enthusiastic about the Delta as Mike and I.
In 1998 I started a software company with two other business partners. I designed software to automate sales channels for semi-conductor manufacturers. We were first into that niche and business was good. In 2006 Mike and I decided to “live where we play,” so we purchased some waterfront property in Discovery Bay. Mike had started out to be an architect so he designed our house. We did a lot of commuting into the valley. Mike was still commuting to Ford Aerospace in Palo Alto and I was consulting at Redwood Shores. I had sold the company when we moved, quit after my one-year commitment, but then stuck around for a while as a consultant. I had a great time working with a product I loved and with people I loved. I finally retired in 2014 and captured my experience in a book called, “It Starts with an Idea.” I described the right way to design software illustrated by some great stories of how we had engineered a successful startup while having fun assembling and working with a team of remarkable people.
Life is good. Discovery Bay is a wonderful place to live and to play. The battle about the tunnels involves a lot of time and resources. However, at least for me, putting up a good fight for a cause that is truly worth fighting for is more satisfying than watching daytime TV and playing Canasta. Perhaps I was born with warriors’ blood in my veins. For sure, nobody’s going to damage my Delta without a fight from me.