East County residents weigh in on Delta tunnel plan

Photo by Tony Kukulich

Save the California Delta Alliance organized a rally to oppose the Delta Conveyance Project in advance of a public scoping meeting held by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) in Brentwood, Thursday, Feb. 20. Public comments were unanimously opposed to DWR’s proposed plan to build a tunnel through the Delta to enhance the State Water Project water-delivery capabilities.

A rally before the start of the Department of Water Resources’(DWR) public scoping meeting for the Delta Conveyance Project (DCP) set the tone for the event — residents of East County were in no mood to consider another tunnel project in the Delta.

Held Thursday, Feb. 20, the Brentwood Community Center’s upstairs conference room was filled beyond capacity, and many attendees stood along the walls and spilled out into the hallway.

“First of all, (DWR) had better have larger meeting rooms if they come to the South Delta, because we have so many people that are so concerned about this project,” said Jan McCleery, former Save the California Delta Alliance (STCDA) president. “We overfilled the room, and there was standing room only.”

Following DWR’s brief overview of the project, more than three dozen tunnel opponents, including Contra Costa County District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis and City of Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick, waited to have their concerns and questions entered in the public record. Among the most frequently heard concern was that the DCP increases reliance on the Delta as a source of water for Southern California. This position contradicts the Delta Reform Act that requires the state to reduce its reliance on the Delta. A number of speakers noted with frustration that DWR is not examining desalination as an alternative to a tunnel despite significant improvements in technology in recent years.

“We are losing a lot of our snowpack because of climate change, and we’re seeing fires,” Burgis said. “We have to invest in projects that actually create water, that create local jobs and that don’t destroy a precious system that is very unique.”

The Brentwood meeting was the seventh of eight planned public sessions that DWR is holding across the state to review the scope of the DCP, and it was the only session planned for East County. Public scoping meetings were scheduled after DWR issued the project’s notice of preparation (NOP) in January of this year. The NOP defines the projects and its objects. It also initiates an environmental impact report for the proposed project, which will determine the project’s compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, a critical step toward moving the project forward.

“I want to highlight that this is the beginning of the process,” said DWR Environmental Program Manager Carrie Buckman. “This is not a decision document. A decision will not be made until the end of the process.”

During his allotted three minutes, Michael Brodsky, SCTDA legal counsel, took issue with this statement.

“You weren’t telling the truth when you said decisions weren’t made,” Brodsky said. “The notice of preparation defines the range of alternatives. It’s been written to exclude everything except Delta conveyance. So the major decisions have been made before you go to these scoping meetings. But we’re going to insist that you study non-tunnel alternatives.”

The DCP follows in the footsteps of the Peripheral Canal Project, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (DBCP) and California WaterFix. It is the latest iteration of the state’s plans to draw freshwater from the northern reaches of the Delta and convey it to the Central Valley and Southern California. While BDCP and WaterFix called for a pair of tunnels to accomplish this, DCP would rely on a single tunnel — a change made nearly a year ago at the direction of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The NOP states that the underlying purpose of the DCP is to protect State Water Project (SWP) water deliveries to destinations south of the Delta. It identifies sea-level rise due to climate change, saltwater intrusion and the vulnerability of SWP infrastructure like levees and canals to seismic activity as primary threats to those water deliveries.

The Brentwood meeting got off to a contentious start when Brodsky referred to DWR’s project overview as a “pack of lies.” Another attendee asked Buckman to compare the current DCP to the Peripheral Canal Project, an initiative rejected by nearly 68% of voters in 1982. She stated that she was relatively unfamiliar with the history of the Peripheral Canal, a fact that took participants — many of whom demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the history of DWR’s efforts in the Delta — by surprise.

Speaking after the meeting, McCleery shared that frustration.

“This plan is the same as WaterFix,” she said. “I didn’t get the feeling that the representatives of DWR really knew what WaterFix was or what the issues were or anything. So that was disappointing.”

The full text of the NOP can be found here: www.bit.ly/thepress_tunnel.

The final public scoping meeting is scheduled for March 2 in Redding. Public comments on the NOP can be submitted in writing and are due March 20, by 5 p.m. They may be submitted by email at DeltaConveyanceScoping@water.ca.gov; or by mail at Delta Conveyance Scoping Comments, Attn: Renee Rodriguez, Department of Water Resources, P.O. Box 942836, Sacramento, CA 94236.

For more information on the Delta Conveyance Project and other water-related issues, visit: water.ca.gov/deltaconveyance, waterresilience.ca.gov, www.restorethedelta.org, www.stcda.org, delta.ca.gov and www.cah2oresearch.com.