Delta tunnels plan still makes zero sense

  • Published on June 1st, 2016

By Dan Bacher

The state and federal governments pleaded their case for Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial Delta California's $15+ billion waterstealing "WaterFix" boondoggleTunnels plan in testimony submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board on May 31 and in a media teleconference held on June 1, claiming that the planned new water diversion points won’t endanger other water users.

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) and Bureau of Reclamation submitted their testimony and evidence as required for upcoming public Water Board hearings regarding their request to add three new points of diversion on the Sacramento River for the California WaterFix. That’s the new name for the plan to build two tunnels under the Delta to export water to agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California water agencies.

In response, Restore the Delta, a coalition opposed to the project, described the testimony as “largely a rehash of unsubstantiated claims about the Delta Tunnels project that have not been proven, despite more than 40,000 pages of environmental review that the US Environmental Protection Agency has declared is still  inadequate (a failing grade.)”

Part 1 of the hearings, scheduled to begin July 26, focuses on two questions: Does the new point of diversion alter water flows or affect water quality such that there would be injury to any legal user of the water, and does the project in effect initiate a new water right?”

In Part I of the hearings and with the submitted testimony, DWR claimed it will “present evidence” to show that the proposed change “will neither initiate a new water right nor injure any other legal user of water.”

John Laird, Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency, touted the alleged water supply reliability and environmental benefits of the Delta Tunnels Plan.

“With California WaterFix, we seek to improve upon the unreliable way water is now conveyed through the Delta, reduce or eliminate costs to the environment and economy from our aging water infrastructure and better prepare the state for effects of climate change,” said Laird. “The key elements of California WaterFix have long been part of the State’s comprehensive vision for the Delta, and the Water Board hearings are an important step in the advancement of the project.”

In the conference call, Laird claimed the Delta Tunnels plan “protects and restores” the Delta ecosystem.

“We believe that WaterFix mitigates the risk to our water supply due to climate change and earthquakes, and protects and restores the Delta ecosystem, and offers clean and secure water for much of California,” Laird said. “Without this, California and the state’s economy risk devastating losses of water supply.”

Mark Cowin, Director of the Department of Water Resources, contended that the California WaterFix would not establish a new water right.

“Through hundreds of pages of testimony submitted yesterday in advance of the hearings, DWR’s team of engineers, lawyers and water experts shows that WaterFix will not establish a new water right, will not injure any other legal user of water and will not negatively impact flows or water quality,” said Cowin.

DWR also claimed in their testimony, “New, properly screened intakes, as proposed in the California WaterFix, would better protect fish and allow us to use the existing south Delta pumps in a strategic and flexible manner in a dual conveyance system with the proposed north delta diversions.”

“To this we say, prove it!” Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD), responded. “The environmental impact report for the project already tells us you can’t! Show Californians, and federal wildlife agencies, proof that the Delta Tunnels plan will protect West Coast fisheries, because that proof is certainly not found in the environmental impact report.”

In fact, the CalFed Record of Decision of 2000 required the installation of state-of-the-art fish screens to protect salmon, steelhead, striped bass, Delta and longfin smelt and many other fish species, but the water contractors have refused to pay for these new screens to stop the massacre of millions of fish at the Delta pumping facilities every year. Delta advocates are very skeptical that effective new fish screens would ever be installed at the new intakes when the mandated screens were never built for the South Delta pumping facilities.

“And when it turns out the Tunnels are not protective of endangered species, what then? Will the Delta Tunnels remain dry from ongoing drought?” Barrigan-Parrilla asked. “If not, where is the proof with a water availability analysis?”

“The CA WaterFix is nothing more than a very expensive gamble based on cherry picked science. But now we have the opportunity to get at the facts in a formal hearing process. We relish the opportunity,” she said.

Tim Stroshane, policy analyst for RTD, challenged DWR’s contention that their petition is  not a new water right.

“DWR’s case-in-chief maintains that an old diversion point in their permits at Hood in the north Delta is ‘close enough’  to the new Tunnels intakes at Clarksburg and Courtland to justify the Board deciding this is a small change in their permits,” said Stroshane.

“Instead we think Hood is a different location than either Clarksburg or Courtland. Board rules require that water availability analysis is done for new water right applications. And the outcome of this decision could result in the Tunnels getting water rights that are over fifty to seventy years junior to the rest of the State Water Project,” he stated.

DWR also argues that their petition is not a new water right because they claim that several operational aspects of the Tunnels, including upstream storage, and overall Banks/Jones pumping, will not change materially; this is merely a “modification” of the existing CVP and SWP permits.

“Delta advocates beg to differ,” said Stroshane. “Any added diversion point requires issuance of a new water right permit. If the State Water Board agrees with Delta advocates and decides it’s a new water right, Tunnel backers would need to do a water availability analysis to follow their procedures.”

“We doubt they would find enough water to sustain the Tunnels project. They already don’t have enough,” Stroshane said.

Stroshane also noted that DWR provided no costs-benefits analysis in its submissions.

“While DWR submitted over 5,000 pages for its case to the Board, they submitted no exhibits addressing why the economic benefits and costs of the Delta Tunnels proposal are in the public interest. This is a huge omission,” he emphasized.

“It appears likely that the agency has refined its modeling to buttress their existing talking points, such as the alleged benefits of dual conveyance providing flexible response to listed fish for real time operation of diversions. They also continue to claim that water rights holders will not be injured by Tunnels operations, without specifics,” Stroshane stated.

Tunnel opponents say the construction of the two massive water diversion tunnels under the Delta would hasten the extinction of Sacramento River winter run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and other species and endanger family farms on the Delta. The project will also imperil salmon and steelhead populations on the Klamath and Trinity rivers, since massive quantities of Trinity River water are diverted every year through a tunnel through the Trinity Mountains to the Sacramento River watershed every year.

Part II of the hearings is expected to take place in early 2017 and “will focus on the extent to which fish and wildlife and other beneficial uses will be affected by the requested change in point of diversion and any measures needed to protect fish and wildlife from any unreasonable impacts of the change,” according to DWR.

DWR’s testimony regarding its petition for change to its water right permit is available here: cms.capitoltechsolutions.com/…

The petition for the new points of diversion can be found here:www.waterboards.ca.gov/…

On the same day that DWR and the Bureau submitted their testimony, Governor Jerry Brown endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. It is believed that one of the key reasons why Brown endorsed Clinton is to get her to support the Delta Tunnels and his other controversial water policies.





About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.