Tom Stokely in Trinity Journal: Twin tunnels proposal called ‘a farce’ See Tom Stokely's PowerPoint presentation here.

Twin tunnels proposal called ‘a farce’

Sally Morris The Trinity Journal | Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 6:15 am

Noting Trinity County is a county of origin for water with a history of being a county of conflict over environmental issues, former Trinity County Resource Planner Tom Stokely told a Weaverville audience last week that opposing the proposed construction of twin peripheral tunnels under the Bay Delta to more easily convey water south "is something we can finally all come together on in Northern California. It’s not a good plan and there are other options."

In fact, he called the whole plan pitched by Gov. Jerry Brown a farce based on lies and bad science. He said the proposed tunnels would be especially destructive here, threatening to deplete Trinity Lake water storage to such low levels there will not be enough cold water to release to the river, particularly in drought years.

"The reservoir is already at risk, but this project will draw it down faster. Without cold water, the fish will die," he said.

After 23 years as Trinity County’s senior resource planner, Stokely now lives in Mt. Shasta and works for the nonprofit corporation California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) that advocates "for equitable and environmentally sensitive use of California’s water" through research, planning, public education and litigation, according to its Web site.

About 50 people from around Trinity County turned out last week to hear the presentation and view the documentary "Over Troubled Waters," by Restore the Delta as part of a statewide public education effort to stop the building of peripheral tunnels. The event in Trinity County was sponsored by the local group SAFE (Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment.)

Artificially plumbed to the Sacramento River, Trinity River water travels all the way to San Diego through complex delivery systems created by the Central Valley and State Water projects.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s $23 billion proposal to build two massive 35-mile-long tunnels 150 feet deep under the Bay Delta would divert Sacramento River water before it goes through the Delta and send it south, bypassing environmental constraints including pumping limitations enacted in the Delta to protect endangered fish species.

The tunnels would carry fresh water from the Sacramento River under the Delta to federal and state pumps near Tracy. From there, the water flows into canals run by the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project which deliver water to 25 million Californians from the Bay Area to San Diego and to irrigate 3 million acres of farmland.

The Brown administration released the first four of 12 chapters of the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan last month. Supporters say habitat conservation measures in the plan will help restore the Bay Delta to a healthier condition and the tunnels will provide more reliable water supplies to cities and agricultural users farther south. They claim the tunnels are needed to protect the state’s water supply from salt water intrusion as sea levels rise and from potential earthquake damage to the state’s aging levees.

Construction would start in 2017 and be completed by 2026. The proposal is to export roughly the same amount of water from the Delta, about half its total freshwater inflow every year, as has been taken in recent years.

Stokely said, "They are selling it with scare tactics while ignoring the real earthquake risks" from the San Andreas fault that runs along the California aqueduct and the fault directly under the San Luis Dam. If it fails when the reservoir is full, the inundation zone goes to the South Delta pumps.

He argued that the metropolitan water districts supporting the plan make money from the sale of water, so they have no incentive and it’s against their interests to promote alternatives such as water recycling, conservation and desalinization facilities.

Furthermore, he said the estimated cost of tunnel construction ($14.5 billion) is likely to fall far short of the true costs C-WIN places at closer to $60 billion, not including future operational and maintenance costs.

He noted that Santa Barbara voters were told the coastal aqueduct they approved would cost $270 million and the final tally was $1.76 billion. In Trinity County, the Buckhorn Dam project on Grass Valley Creek had an initial cost estimate of $6 million and came in at $22 million.

"Cost overruns are common for these types of projects. They have no idea what kind of material they’ll even be drilling in under the Delta," Stokely said, adding that a cost/benefit analysis conducted by the University of the Pacific concluded that for every $2.50 spent, there will be $1 in benefit.

"It’s a poor investment and they expect the public to pay for habitat restoration from $4 billion in water bonds they hope voters will approve," Stokely said, adding the other costs will be passed on to water ratepayers with no guarantee of receiving more water.

He said the Department of Water Resources claims the project is not about delivering more water, "but I don’t believe them. With climate change, there will be less water available and it’s already grossly over-appropriated."

Bonds are the only part of the project on which voters will have a say, Stokely said, noting the plan has been developed by committee and engineered to avoid the ballot for fear it would be defeated like the 1982 Peripheral Canal proposed during Brown’s first term as governor.

Stokely argued the plan is based on "corrupt science" ruled by authorized entities that include the Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Water Resources, Westlands Water District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Kern County Water Agency, Santa Clara Valley Water District, San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority and other state and federal water contractors.

"None of the fishery services are there," he said, adding the plan removes fresh water from the Delta, increasing its salinity, and involves dredging 27 million cubic yards of muck from the bottom "which they have to dump somewhere. They will take over 100,000 acres of prime Delta farm land out of production to do that and deliver more clean water to poison lands in the western and southern San Joaquin Valley."

He added the documents released so far include zero specifics on fish protection or flows, but as ongoing Delta salinity violations have been allowed to occur, "they just increase the salinity standards. These people cannot be trusted. Everything they say about this project is a lie."

Alternatives promoted by C-WIN and others include a water availability analysis to eliminate "paper water"; a legitimate benefit/cost analysis; enforcement of existing water quality regulations and limiting Delta exports to 3 million acre-feet a year. The modeling for the proposed project shows average export ranging between 4.8 and 5.6 million acre-feet. The current average is 5.4 million acre-feet. (An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover one acre a foot deep.)

Many are also advocating for levee reinforcement at a fraction of the cost to build tunnels as well as conservation measures and development of recycling and rain water capture systems to reduce demand on the state and federal systems.

Trinity County has already taken a position opposing the tunnels and the documentary noted the proposed tunnels have caused many odd coalitions to form as farmers, fishermen, environmentalists, industry and small business owners join forces to oppose the plan.

Stokely said most Northern California counties oppose the plan, but the key is to get Southern California water district ratepayers to reject it as well.

"Why would they indebt themselves if they aren’t going to get more water?" he asked, adding that a lot of users are beginning to balk "and it’s a real house of cards. I really can’t see why it hasn’t died yet. It’s such a bad project, but they are hell-bent on getting it done."

A copy of the video "Over Troubled Waters" is available for checkout at the Trinity County Library.