Farmer says legal action only way to stop governor’s tunnel project
• Calls for alternative to Delta tunnels
Tim Neubarth addresses the meeting
Courtland area pear farmer Tim Neubarth, whose farm would be impacted by massive twin water tunnels are built as advocated by Gov. Jerry Brown, has some advice for those opposed to the radical plan: Go to court.
“The only way you’re going to stop these SOBs is to sue the crap out of them,” Mr. Neubarth says.
He made the comment this week at a Courtland meeting where the governor’s plan, the heart of the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan, was examined.
The twin tunnels, each large enough to let a single-engine airplane fly through them without touching the walls, would stretch for 30-35 miles 150 feet beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta from Courtland to near Tracy. They would siphon off fresh water from the Sacramento River before it could flow naturally into and through the delta, taking the water into the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project systems.
Cost estimates are fluid, but could hit $54 billion once interest payments are included.
After the Delta Water Agency’s manager, Melinda Terry, spoke for nearly two hours about the negative impacts to the plan’s twin tunnels in the local ground zero Courtland area, pear farmer Tim Neubarth stood up and gave some common sense advice.
“You’ve got to have an alternative,” he told his local friends and neighbors at the Courtland Auditorium meeting, Oct. 2. He commended Ms. Terry on her talk and said there were a lot of different things she mentioned, “which are great and gives us a lot to think about.”
“But after this thing (BDCP final plan) comes out, although I hate litigation,.… you sue them as an individual, as an association, as a town, and just inundate these people with litigation until they can’t see straight. And maybe, just maybe the light will come on that this is not worthwhile,” he said.
Interestingly, the governor’s right hand man for the BDCP, Jerry Meral, was sitting just a short distance away from Mr. Neubarth.
”But you have to come up with an alternative. Let’s say in our wildest dreams that the BDCP goes away. It falls on itself like the house of cards and just collapses,” the family farmer said. “That will never stop the issue of what the Delta and its water plays in the state of California. It will come back again like it did in 1982. It’s back here now. If you don’t have an alternative, it will show up again down the road.”
He says tunnel opponents need to offer a viable alternative.
Mr. Neubarth’s personal alternative choice is the Robert Pyke plan called the Western Delta Intake Concept (WDIC). It would be located on Sherman Island at the south end of Sacramento County. Sherman Island is mostly owned by the state and thus there would be less need to take land from Delta farmers by eminent domain.
Other features of the plan include:
• All waters from rivers, streams and island pump outs and run-offs must pass through the Delta to the WDIC site.
• Due to all the water passing through the Delta, money spent on Delta infrastructure would remain in the Delta.
• WDIC is half the distance to the state and federal pumping stations. This would thus mean a reduction in construction costs and mitigation costs.
• Due to all waters passing through the Delta and the inclusion of additional storage which allows so-called “Big Gulp-Little Gulp” operation, Southern California water uses would receive more water over the long haul compared to BDCP’s proposal for zero more net water.
• WDIC is self-regulating. This means over-pumping of fresh water at any time would result in too much brackish (salt) water flowing into the Delta. The pumps must be turned down or shut off as a result of to much brackish water.
Mr. Neubarth said he could be wrong with this plan, because it has not yet been proven or validated, “but what I know from a simple farmer in the Delta’s viewpoint, this makes sense more than the BDCP’s twin tunnels.”
Melinda Terry: 750 impacts in 25,000 pages
Melinda Terry, who has a seat on the BDCP board, as well as representing the North Delta Water Agency and a flood control agency in dual capacities, has been one of the only government agency’s critics to speak out about the plan in local communities.
Although the BDCP has held meetings in the Delta, residents say they don’t seem to be able to get information needed from the meetings. They say the usual answer from BDCP and the Department of Water Resources is they will take down the information and email the resident the answer, but the answers don’t seem to come back in any inbox, residents say.
Mrs. Terry said she hopes to educate residents on how to look at BDCP’s environmental impact report documents. She advised them to look at certain chapters more closely than others.
She said there are 750 impacts in 25,000 pages. “Of those, 48 are identified as significant, adverse, and unavoidable,” she said. “That means, yes, we’re going to damage and do some harm to the environment, but we’re not going to mediate or repair it.”
Mrs. Terry said to look for how much detail there is in the documents. Ask, “Is this right? Or will they think of this?” she said.
“For the conveyance (tunnels), the BDCP is planning on having this be the Project Level Analysis. This means if they get their permits approved, it is ready. It is done. They are ready to go to construction.”
But she said that the problem is they didn’t do a lot of analysis. “They put it off into the future. So sometimes before or after construction, they will start doing some studies and determine some of these things. A lot are discretionary so it might be if it is cost effective or feasible. Some are just whether or not the BDCP thinks that there is an impact or not.”
Some of the negative local impacts in the Courtland and Hood area to expect will be the 3,000 cubic feet per second pumping facilities, huge fish screens on the Sacramento River, sediment ponds, cooling ponds, sub stations, and “lots of other tunnels that will be where we are right now,” she said.
Ms. Terry added that the three water intake plants will be about one mile long in a four mile stretch. There will also be a lot of concrete batch plants and adjacent fueling stations and, of course, muck ponds. There will be 1,600 acres of muck on them, Mrs. Terry said.
Other impacts to expect are:
• Coffer dams in the Sacramento River will be necessary to “dry it up.”
• Because the area is on well water, this will be a serious issue since the radius of influence around each of the dewatering wells is 2,600 feet.
• There will be six barges for huge concrete pipes that they can’t drive on the freeways.
• The level of the Sacramento River may be lowered.
“Each intake will take about 3,000 CFS,” said Ms. Terry. “The 650,000 acres that will go into the Yello Bypass will divert about 6,000 CFS capacity. That will reduce the Sacramento River north of there, which becomes a flood benefit to those folks, by three feet. Clearly, we will have some change (in the Courtland-Clarksburg-Hood areas).”
The average annual inflow at Freeport will be reduced by 650,000 acre-feet annually — primarily due to increased Fremont Weir spills, she explained. There will be increased flows in April and May with reduced flows in June and July, caused by reduced reservoir storage from high spring releases. There may be lower flows in the Sutter and Steamboat Sloughs due to increased diversions into the Yolo Bypass and the North Delta intakes reducing the Sacramento River flow.
“Farmers should pay attention to this,” Mrs. Terry warned. She said to study the history and why the BDCP wants to do the twin tunnels plan. “They have had predation issues. They have reverse flows sucking in the fish. They have lowered water elevations in the South Delta. Every year they build temporary barriers for the water to come back up so the agricultural irrigators can access their water. That potentially could happen in our future.”
Mrs. Terry said the BDCP hasn’t yet figured out how many residential and agricultural wells there are, “but will do that in the future.” She said the three planned options the BDCP has now for homes are:
• Install sheet piles to prevent water from getting into homes.
• Deepen the residential wells.
• Secure portable water supplies.
“Agricultural water supplies are a little different,” she continued. “They may just tell you, ‘If we can, we’ll get you another source of water, or just compensate you instead of having water.’” This drew nervous laughs from some of the farmers in the audience.
“When you suck water out of the ground, you will be discharging somewhere seven days a week, 24 hours a day for years into the river or drainage systems nearby,” she said.
“If I am in a house and my water is not running any more,” continued Mrs. Terry, “and I can’t take showers or do my laundry, how are you (BDCP) going to replace it? Is it coming in a truck? Who gets to decide how much water you are replacing? Are you going to look at my average use? How frequent is your water going to be delivered? If they drill a deeper well for you, that would be nice if they pay for it, but who will pay for the extra pumping charge? That costs more and that’s a ‘forever cost’ for you!”
When Mr. Meral was asked by Central Valley Business Times to comment on Mrs. Terry’s talk and the audience’s comments, he declined, saying, “I’m just a guest tonight.”