Five members of Congress called this week for the governor's point man on Delta issues to resign, after two environmental advocates said he commented that the twin tunnels project will not save the estuary.
The Brown administration, however, defended Natural Resources Agency Deputy Director Jerry Meral and said his words were taken out of context.
Advocates Tom Stokely and Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said Meral's comments were made during a casual conversation with Stokely at an April 15 event.
According to Barrigan-Parrilla, head of Stockton-based Restore the Delta, Meral said that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is not about saving the Delta, and that the Delta cannot be saved. She said Friday that she was standing a short distance away when she heard the comments, and wrote them down. Stokely said Friday that her account is correct.
Restoring the Delta's ecosystem is supposed to be the very foundation of the tunnels plan. Under state law, restoring the Delta is considered "coequal" to the goal of establishing a more reliable water supply for California. The law also requires the Delta to be protected as an "evolving" place.
"We did not put the statement out for publicity gain or just to try to embarrass somebody," Barrigan-Parrilla said Friday. "The reason we let this statement out was to show the true intent" of the tunnels project, which she believes to be increasing the amount of water shipped to southland farms and cities.
A Resources spokesman said Meral's comments were taken out of context during a discussion about the "potentially calamitous threats" the Delta faces from sea level rise, earthquakes and levee failures.
Both advocates said Meral had been talking about his concern that a mega-flood could someday swamp the Central Valley, as it did in 1861-62.
"It's not surprising that opponents of the administration's water plan would exploit and politicize out-of-context comments 'reported' by a longtime critic of the project," Resources spokesman Richard Stapler said in an email. "The administration remains deeply committed to maintaining a healthy Delta ecosystem."
Five members of Congress condemned Meral's remarks in a news release, including Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton. Later Friday, nine members of the state Legislature -- including Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton -- issued their own statement calling for an immediate halt to the tunnels plan.
Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at www.recordnet.com/breitlerblog.
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