The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has announced a series of workshops intended to solicit public input on the development of a community benefit program associated with the Delta Conveyance Project (DCP).
According to DWR, community benefit programs go beyond traditional concepts of mitigation. They attempt to provide greater flexibility in addressing possible community impacts associated with the major construction projects.
“It’s pretty common for large infrastructure projects to have a set of commitments that benefit the local communities,” said Carrie Buckman, environmental program manager for the DCP. “If the project is approved, we use the effort to acknowledge that it could have potential effects to communities that go beyond the traditional environmental mitigation. We want to try to coordinate with the community on this. Thinking about the kinds of things that might be in a community benefit program, we really need to have that conversation with the community.”
However, some project opponents view the program as little more than an effort to buy public acceptance of the controversial Delta tunnel project. Discovery Bay-based Save the California Delta Alliance (STCDA) sent an email to its subscribers last week urging readers to boycott the workshops.
“I urge you not to register or go to any of these workshops,” read the email signed by Karen Mann and Jan McCleery, current and past STCDA presidents, respectively. “This is simply DWR’s way of duping Delta residents into helping them get their giant water grab tunnel project approved. A trick. The more people who register and attend these sham meetings, the more it will help DWR hoodwink a judge into believing that this tunnel is good for the Delta and that DWR cares about us.”
The DCP is the latest iteration of plans to draw fresh water from the northern reaches of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and convey it into the Central Valley and Southern California as far as San Diego. Under former Gov. Jerry Brown, the project was referred to as WaterFix and consisted of a pair of 35-mile long tunnels buried 150 feet underground. Gov. Gavin Newsom scaled the project down to a single tunnel when he introduced his Water Resilience Portfolio in early 2019, and WaterFix transitioned into the DCP. The cost of the project is currently estimated at $15.9 billion, and construction is expected to last approximately 15 years.
“We do really understand that there is opposition in the Delta to this project,” Buckman said. “What we’ve been trying to make clear in many of our forums is that participation in no way indicates support for this project. We really understand that if people come to this meeting and engage in discussion on benefits, we do not expect them to relax their opposition to the project.”
Many details about the project, including the route tunnel will take, have yet to be determined. The twin tunnels associated with the WaterFix project were routed through the central Delta and featured three intakes located between the towns of Clarksburg and Courtland. The single tunnel contemplated by the DCP could follow the same route, though pressure has been building to follow an eastern alignment that is closer to Interstate 5, ostensibly to reduce traffic on the narrow levee roads and diminish the impact of construction on towns along the tunnel’s path. DCP calls for two tunnel intakes instead of three, but the locations of those two intakes are essentially unchanged.
With many critical design details still outstanding, Mann said she believes it’s too early to be discussing a community benefits program.
“They just want to give us this stuff so we feel good,” Mann said. “They’re not addressing our big concerns like the location of the intakes. That’s a big concern.”
There are four workshops currently planned – April 14, May 6 and 21. A workshop specifically for tribal members is scheduled for May 17. To register for one or more of the sessions, visit http://bit.ly/ThePress_communitybenefitprogram.
“There are a lot of different elements in the Delta – different people, different benefits, different uses, different resources,” Buckman said. “I think that if people remove themselves from the discussion, then that means that those resources don’t get the attention that we might want them to get because we don’t know. The more discussion there is, the more potential there is for broader benefits.”