Citing a need to protect the state’s water supply from climate change and seismic threats, the California Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) plan to construct a single tunnel through the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta took a major step forward with the Jan. 15 publication of the project’s notice of preparation (NOP), and its release drew swift reactions from both sides of the metaphorical aisle.
“The health of the Delta — both its communities and the environment — depends on freshwater flows through the Delta from the Sacramento River,” wrote representatives of the Delta Counties Coalition in a press release. “The tunnel proposal would remove a significant amount of those freshwater flows from their natural course through the Delta. A single tunnel could still divert up to nearly half of the average flow of the Sacramento River and make conditions in the Delta worse, not better. Today’s announcement is a missed opportunity to get past the old conflict-ridden rivalries and pursue different and more fruitful approaches that would actually increase statewide water supplies. Instead, it’s more of the same divisive top-down approach pursued by past administrations.”
The Delta Conveyance Project (DCP), as the initiative is now known, is DWR’s latest version of a plan to draw water from the northern reaches of the Delta and move it to pumps approximately 40 miles south. From there the water will enter the network of State Water Project (SWP) canals, and begin its journey to farms, homes and businesses of the Central Valley and Southern California. DCP supplants the twin-tunnel design called WaterFix that was canceled by Gov. Gavin Newsom last April, after 13 years of planning, legal wrangling and hard-fought opposition.
“Governor Newsom directed state agencies to pursue a single-tunnel solution to modernize our water infrastructure, and when combined with the broader, statewide portfolio approach, this project would help safeguard a vital source of affordable water for millions of Californians,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “This water supply is critical to the health of local communities, the future of the Delta ecosystem and the success of our state’s economy.”
The NOP initiates an environmental impact report for the proposed project, which is the first step to ensure its compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a critical step toward getting the project off the ground.
“We applaud the Newsom Administration for moving the ball forward on a single-tunnel Delta Conveyance Project,” wrote Jennifer Pierre, general manager at State Water Contractors, an organization comprised of water agencies that stand to receive water from the DCP, as well as pay for its construction. “There’s no question that a Delta tunnel is one of the critical and necessary solutions for ensuring that Californians have a reliable water supply for their homes and businesses amidst the growing threats and impacts of climate change.”
Stating that the underlying purpose of the DCP is to protect SWP water deliveries, the NOP identifies sea-level rise due to climate change and the vulnerability of SWP infrastructure, like levees and canals, to seismic activity primary threats. The NOP also states that the same threats apply to the Central Valley Project (CVP), but to this point, the Bureau of Reclamation — the federal agency that manages the CVP — has yet to sign on to the project. The Bureau was a participant in WaterFix.
“The attempt last time was to sort of package it as ‘it’s going to help the Delta,’” said Michael Brodsky, legal council for Discovery Bay-based Save the California Delta Alliance. “They referred to the tunnels as a conservation measure. There was this attempt to sell (WaterFix) to the public as environmentally helping the Delta. They have finally come to realize that they’re going to lose on that. They try to go against common sense and say that diverting all this water before it flows through the Delta is somehow going to help the Delta. A 12-year-old can see that that can’t be true. They’ve finally given up on that, but it’s a water supply project. The main rationale is sea-level rise. That’s the main justification for the project now.”
Brodsky argues that reducing the flow of freshwater through the Delta will actually exacerbate saltwater intrusion, rather than protect against it.
DCP appears to draw heavily upon the work that was completed as part of WaterFix. Two tunnel routes are suggested in the document. One route follows the same proposed path as the twin tunnels, while a second path takes a more easterly route, running roughly parallel to Interstate 5. WaterFix proposed three tunnel intakes located near the towns of Clarksburg, Hood and Courtland. The NOP identifies those same three locations for DCP, but states that only two locations will be chosen. Each intake is expected to have a capacity of 3,000 cubic feet per second and occupy up to 150 acres.
“They’ve said the problems are sea-level rise and earthquakes,” said Brodsky. “Those are a threat to our water supply, and the answer is a tunnel. What the NOP does is define the range of alternatives they need to study. What they’re trying to do is set this up so the only thing they’re going to look at is a tunnel. That’s just wrong. With everything we know from dealing with this thing since 2006, a tunnel doesn’t work. It doesn’t solve any problems, and they’re not willing to look at any alternative to a tunnel.”
The full text of the NOP can be found here: www.bit.ly/thepress_tunnel.
DWR is conducting a series of public meetings throughout the Delta region to discuss the DCP and give residents an opportunity to ask questions about the project. A meeting in Brentwood is scheduled for Feb. 20, from 6-8 p.m., in the Brentwood Community Center.
Public comments on the NOP are due March 20 by 5 p.m., and 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.