Airing the issues on the state’s water future

07/18/2013

We’ve all heard the cliché, “Everyone in West Marin is an environmentalist.” It’s true that many locals have strong opinions about environmental issues, and many have worked hard to protect the natural environment here and elsewhere. Jerry Meral, an Inverness resident, is one of the most widely recognized environmentalists in California. 

He is also heading up Gov. Jerry Brown’s campaign in support of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, an enormous undertaking to build two 33-foot diameter, 35-mile long tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to take water south from the Sacramento River north of the Delta. The water would flow by gravity to pumping stations near Tracy, and the supply would be protected against disruptions triggered by earthquakes, large storms and sea level rise. The project is estimated to take approximately 50 years to be implemented at a cost of at least $24.5 billion, not including interest. Gov. Brown and Mr. Meral describe it as a major environmental project. 

It is not the first time Mr. Meral worked with the Governor on such a project. He served as deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources during the 1970’s, when Gov. Brown first occupied the statehouse. At the time, Mr. Meral was an important spokesman for an earlier attempt to redesign the delta with a peripheral canal that was opposed by many environmental groups and defeated by voters in 1982. Subsequently, he headed the California Planning and Conservation League, and was the vice-president of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin—where he was an outspoken supporter of the National Park Service’s efforts to shut down Drakes Bay Oyster Company.  

There is widespread belief among environmentalists and others that something must be done “to save the Delta,” where a number of fish species have died off, and others are endangered. Birds and other wildlife have not fared any better, and the islands in the river are sinking. It is clear the ecosystem is rapidly changing, and many environmentalists have been developing plans to counter the emerging problems. The governor’s plan, which will not be subjected to voter approval, is the leading solution.

There are two overriding factors that are important to understand about today’s environmental movement. First, there is a proliferation of people, organizations and corporations claiming to be committed to environmental solutions. For instance, British Petroleum, responsible for the deep-water drilling that led to one of the worst man-made polluting disasters in modern history, continually touts its environmental commitments and activities. Second, the environmental movement is not a unified force. Even among those who are truly working to improve the environment, there is vigorous debate and, sometimes, rancorous dissension. We have seen this conflict emerge in our own community in the dispute over Drakes Bay Oyster Company. It has also been true of the struggle to improve the Delta, with a number of lawsuits filed by committed environmentalists. 

A draft of the Bay Delta plan is expected to be released October 1 for public review. We have invited Mr. Meral to discuss it on Monday, July 22 at 1 p.m. on KWMR, 90.5 FM in Point Reyes Station and 89.9 FM in Bolinas. Jonas Minton, a water policy advisor and critic of the plan, will also be our guest. Listeners are invited to join the discussion. To ask questions or give comments, call (415) 663.8317 during the show; prior to the show, questions and comments can be sent to binggong@sonic.net. Herb Kutchin’s previous interview with Mr. Meral, also discussing the Delta plan, is archived at wmpostcarbon.com. 

 

Herb Kutchins, professor emeritus at California State University, and Bing Gong, a West Marin activist, are co-hosts of KWMR’s Post Carbon Radio. The show streams live at kwmr.org.