Delta Tunnels: Delta Stewardship Council had just one job to do. They failed.
Last week, the Delta Stewardship Council voted to endorse the Delta Tunnels (dual conveyance) plan as part of their amendments to the Delta Plan at their meeting in Sacramento. They made the decision, with only one dissenting vote, in spite of a massive turnout and hours of testimony by tunnels opponents, including fishermen, conservationists, environmental justice advocates, family farmers, Delta residents and elected officials. The following is my testimony.
By Dan Bacher
Don’t endorse the Delta Tunnels in amendments to Delta Plan
After covering fish, water, and environmental justice issues in California and the West for over 30 years as an investigative journalist, I’ve concluded that the California WaterFix, AKA “dual conveyance,” is the most environmentally devastating public works project I’ve ever encountered. I urge the Delta Stewardship Council to reject making “dual conveyance” the preferred conveyance alternative in the amendments to the Delta Plan.
In my reporting, I’ve covered many aspects of the controversial plan. These include:
• How the project’s former point man Jerry Meral, in a moment of candor in 2013, claimed the Delta “cannot be saved,” after years of promoting the peripheral canal and tunnels as the solution to the co-equal goals of water supply reliability.
• How scientific panels, ranging from the Delta Independence Science Board, to federal EPA scientists, to the latest report on the EIS by NOAA scientists, have given the alleged “science” of the tunnels project a failing grade.
• How the project won’t help Californians fund innovative water conservation, storm water capture, or water recycling projects that are desperately needed.
• How the plan will push endangered fish species, such as Delta and longfin smelt, winter Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and green sturgeon, over the abyss of extinction, while failing to address the state’s long-term water supply needs.
• How the project will devastate not only San Francisco Bay and Delta fisheries, but recreational, commercial and subsistence fisheries up and down the West Coast; the salmon fishery alone is worth $1.5 billion annually.
• How the tunnels will also imperil the salmon, steelhead and other fish populations on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers that are an integral part of the culture and livelihoods of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes, now facing the lowest estimated fall run chinook run in history.
• How the tunnels would devastate the Delta’s $5.2 billion agricultural economy and $750 million recreation and tourism economy.
• How the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and other California Indian Tribes have been excluded or marginalized in the Delta Tunnels process.
• How the current petition before the State Water Resources Control Board and all of the previous plans, EIRs and documents of the plan have failed to address other alternatives, such as the Environmental Water Caucus’ Sustainable Water Plan for California, for achieving the dual goals of ecosystem restoration and water supply.
I’ve also covered the lack of scoping meetings for the new plan; lack of details regarding financing, addition of 8,000 new pages for public comment on top of the existing 40,000 pages that were previously submitted by the state and federal governments last year; and the lack of a cost-benefits analysis.
But in the many hours I’ve spent covering the California WaterFix and its predecessors, there’s one terminal flaw with the project that stands out among all others: the false assumption the project is based upon.
The WaterFix is based on the absurd contention that taking up to 9,000 cubic feet per second of water from the Sacramento River at the new points of diversion will restore the ecosystem.
I am not aware of a single project in US or world history where the construction of a project that takes more water out of a river or estuary has resulted in the restoration of that river or estuary.
Based on this untenable premise and all of the flaws that thousands of Californians have uncovered about the project, I am urging the Delta Stewardship Council to not make “dual conveyance” – a thinly veiled term for the Delta Tunnels – the preferred alternative.