Dan Bacher: Delta Tunnels: Restoring An Estuary by Diverting Its Water?
July 28, 2016 - After covering fish, water, and environmental justice issues in California and the West for over 30 years as an investigative journalist, I’ve concluded that the California Water Fix, the new name for the Delta Tunnels, is the most environmentally devastating public works project I've ever encountered.
I’ve published hundreds of articles about the Delta Tunnels, Governor Jerry Brown's plan to divert Sacramento River water 30 miles under the California Delta to facilitate its export to corporate agribusiness and Southern California water agencies, in a wide array of publications.
In my reporting, I’ve covered many aspects of the controversial plan. These include:
• How the project won’t create one drop of new water while spending up to $67 billion of taxpayer and ratepayer’s money.
• How the project’s former point man Jerry Meral, in a moment of candor in 2013, claimed the Delta “cannot be saved,” after years of promoting the peripheral canal and tunnels as the solution to the co-equal goals of water supply reliability.
• How the reports of scientific panels, ranging from the Delta Independence Science Board to federal EPA scientists, that have given the alleged “science” of the tunnels project a failing grade.
• How the project won’t help Californians during the drought, fund innovative water conservation, storm water capture, or water recycling projects that are desperately needed.
• How the plan will push endangered fish species, such as Delta and longfin smelt, winter Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and green sturgeon, over the abyss of extinction, while failing to address the state's long-term water supply needs.
• How the project will devastate not only San Francisco Bay and Delta fisheries, but recreational, commercial and subsistence fisheries up and down the West Coast; the salmon fishery alone is worth $1.5 billion annually.
• How the tunnels will also imperil the salmon, steelhead and other fish populations on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers that are an integral part of the culture and livelihoods of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes.
• How the tunnels would devastate the Delta’s $5.2 billion agricultural economy and $750 million recreation and tourism economy.
• How the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and other California Indian Tribes have been excluded or marginalized in the Delta Tunnels process.
• How documents for the tunnels projects, in an overt case of environmental injustice, have not been translated into Spanish and other languages, as required under an array of state and federal laws.
• How the current petition before the State Water Resources Control Board and all of the previous plans, EIRs and documents of the plan have failed to address other alternatives, such as the Environmental Water Caucus’ Sustainable Water Plan for California, for achieving the dual goals of ecosystem restoration and water supply.
I’ve also covered the lack of scoping meetings for the new plan; lack of details regarding financing, addition of 8,000 new pages for public comment on top of the existing 40,000 pages that were previously submitted by the state and federal governments last year; and the lack of a cost-benefits analysis.
But in the many hours I’ve spent covering the California WaterFix and its predecessors, there’s one terminal flaw with the project that stands out among all others: the false assumption the project is based upon.
The Water Fix is based on the absurd contention that taking up to 9,000 cubic feet per second of water from the Sacramento River at the new points of diversion, as requested in the petition by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to the State Water Resources Control Board, will somehow “restore” the Delta ecosystem.
I am not aware of a single project in US or world history where the construction of a project that takes more water out of a river or estuary has resulted in the restoration of that river or estuary.
Based on this untenable premise and all of the flaws that thousands of Californians have uncovered about the project, I am strongly urging the State Water Resources Control Board to reject the petition of DWR and Reclamation requesting permits for new water diversion intakes on the Sacramento River and water quality certification under the Clean Water Act. These are essential permits required before the Delta Tunnels could be constructed.
The California WaterFix is a massive water grab for corporate agribusiness interests and Southern California water agencies, subsidized by the taxpayers, that must not be allowed to go forward.