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 The voice of California's rivers

The Delta Tunnels: the worst threat to Northern California rivers in history

Read a special article from the Eastbay Express: Tunnel Vision Part Two: Rivers in Peril

How Jerry Brown's plan to build two giant water tunnels, along with legislation in Congress, could ultimately spoil the last of Northern California's wild and scenic rivers.

January 25, 2014: FOR's Take on the BDCP's latest draft 
Speak Out Against The Delta Tunnels!
Delta “Twin Tunnels” – A Doubled-Barreled Shotgun Aimed At North State Rivers
The long awaited draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its draft Environmental Impact
Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) are now available for review by the public. The government is soliciting public input on the controversial plan and its proposal to build massive “twin tunnels” intended to divert fresh water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta Estuary. Now is your opportunity to speak out against this environmental travesty at upcoming open houses and by sending an email opposing this expensive and destructive water project.
For BDCP open house times and locations click here, and to send your email opposing this disastrous project TAKE ACTION NOW.
The BDCP is proposed as a 50-year habitat conservation plan with the stated goals of restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta ecosystem and securing California water supplies.  Proposed by federal and state agencies, as well as the water contractors they serve, the BDCP proposes to build two massive tunnels beneath the Delta that would divert water from the Sacramento River, before it reaches the Delta, for export to southern Central Valley agribusiness and southern California’s sprawling cities.
The BDCP also proposes to restore or protect approximately 145,000 acres of Delta habitat.  
Many believe that the BDCP is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Delta’s environmental decline occurred as federal and state pumps in the south Delta diverted up to 60% of the estuary’s fresh water inflow. BDCP critics question the logic of trying to restore an ecosystem degraded by fresh water diversions by building new infrastructure capable of diverting even more fresh water. And despite millions of dollars of public funds proposed to “restore” Delta habitat, restoration will not be successful unless and until we restore fresh water flows into the Delta, particularly from the San Joaquin River system, to meet the needs of Delta fish and wildlife and the habitat that sustains them.
The government’s official estimate for the BDCP price tag is nearly $25 billion. Critics point out that this estimate does not include interest and other hidden costs, which could balloon the overall price tag to more than $64 billion. The construction of the tunnels and diversions would cost more than $14.5 billion, with another $4.8 billion in operation, maintenance, and administration expenses over the 50-year life of the plan. Federal and state water contractors are responsible for these costs. If the contractors incur this debt, you can be sure that they will push for diverting as much water as possible from the Delta to recover their costs. The federal and state taxpayers will be responsible for much of the BDCP’s habitat restoration costs. Most of the state’s share of Delta restoration costs is built into the $11 billion water bond on the November 2014 ballot.


Critics fear that the BDCP’s proposed twin tunnels will only continue if not actually increase the dewatering of the Delta – the West Coast’s largest fresh water estuary – and contribute to the further decline of native Delta fish species towards extinction, increased water pollution in the Delta, and the loss of tens-of-thousands of acres of rich Delta farmland and wildlife habitat. Even worse, details hidden in the 40,000 page EIR/EIS hint that continued and expanded Delta exports through the twin tunnels, coupled with the impacts of climate change, will drain the major reservoirs in northern California and result in dramatic and severe changes in river flows downstream.

According to the BDCP EIR/EIS, the operation of the twin tunnels, coupled with the impacts of climate change, will drain Trinity Reservoir by up to 19%, Shasta Reservoir by up to 20%, Folsom Reservoir by up to 31%, and Oroville Reservoir by up to 32%. The result may be even lower flows (particularly in the fall) in the Trinity, Sacramento, American, and Feather Rivers than we are witnessing now during one of California’s driest years on record. The Sacramento River’s flow downstream of the project’s three new water intakes (located just south of Sacramento) will be reduced all year long.
The 45 mile-long twin Delta tunnels and their fresh water intakes, forebays, tunnel debris disposal sites, and additional facilities will eat up at least 5,700 acres of Delta farmland and wildlife habitat. Some of the facilities and debris disposal sites will be located on Brannan Island State Park and on conservation land purchased with public funds to provide habitat for the threatened sandhill crane. The diversion intakes, access roads, lights and other urban intrusions associated with these facilities, will be directly adjacent to the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Delta Meadows State Park.
The BDCP will create new political impetus behind raising existing dams and building new ones on northern California rivers to store and feed more fresh water into the tunnels. The plan to raise Shasta Dam and enlarge its reservoir is directly tied to the BDCP’s Delta tunnels. The federal government’s own environmental report for the Shasta Dam raise admits that all of the water produced by the enlarged reservoir will be sold to water contractors, 75% of them located south of the Delta. Raising Shasta Dam will flood segments of the McCloud and Sacramento Rivers eligible for federal Wild & Scenic River protection, violate state law intended to protect the free flowing McCloud, and perpetuate cultural genocide by flooding the remaining homeland of the Winnemen Wintu Tribe.
Another project likely to be boosted by the Delta tunnels is the Sites Offstream Storage Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley. The reservoir would be filled by diversions of fresh water from the Sacramento River (Sites diversions could take as much as 67% of the river’s average flow during April according to one computer model). The diversions would significantly reduce flows in the Sacramento River needed to maintain its healthy riparian and aquatic habitats, which are home to numerous threatened and endangered wildlife and fish species, including salmon and steelhead. State officials admit that the Sites Project is only cost effective if all of its water is sold to water contractors, even though the same officials promise vague environmental benefits that will supposedly be provided by the reservoir.
The BDCP tunnels may even reinvigorate the controversial Auburn Dam on the American River (a project that has risen from the political ashes so many times that it has been called a “Zombie” dam). But the ultimate target to feed the Delta tunnels would be revival of the Dos Rios Dam project on the Eel River, with tunnels beneath the Coast Range to send more fresh water to the Delta for export. Even Ronald Reagan couldn’t stomach that, so he spiked the Dos Rios project when he was Governor of California in 1969.
The big problem with the BDCP’s proposed twin tunnels is the difference between the government’s stated intent on how the project will be operated and its actual physical capacity to do harm. Astoundingly, government scientists still don’t know how much fresh water the Delta needs to survive and thrive as a functioning ecosystem. Governor Brown’s solution is to build the tunnels and diversions, and figure out later how much water the Delta needs. The long history of broken promises, failed reforms, and violated laws in regard to water operations in California simply underscores the uncertainty of the BDCP. When it comes to this project, it’s caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).
California doesn’t need to build these massive twin tunnels and diversions to meet its water supply needs. A truly sustainable water plan for the state would focus on increased water conservation and efficiency, treating and recycling waste water, cleaning up polluted groundwater, capturing and treating storm water, and reducing irrigation of drainage-impaired lands in the southern Central Valley. The environmental, social, and monetary cost of these sustainable solutions is much less than what is proposed by the BDCP.
California’s beleaguered Delta needs your help. Please attend a BDCP public meeting and speak out for the true protection and restoration of the Delta. For BDCP public meeting times and locations, and to send your email opposing this disastrous project TODAY, TAKE ACTION NOW.  
Please attend one or more of the upcoming public meetings and speak out against the Delta twin tunnels plan. Feel free to use the bullet points in the email message below. Upcoming public meetings include:

JUNE 14, 2013: Friends of the River along with a statewide coalition of fishing, environmental and Delta farming communities today filed a lawsuit against the California Delta Stewardship Council’s approval of the Delta Plan, which includes a proposal to build two 35-mile tunnels to siphon water away from the Sacramento River and San Joaquin Bay Delta to send to Southern California. The $25 billion project would have devastating impacts on the region’s farming and fishing and put several endangered species at increased risk of extinction.
The 2009 Delta Reform Act, which set up the council, required it to create the Delta Plan as a framework for its permitting authority over actions affecting the Delta. According to the Act, the council must approve only actions that serve the coequal goals of environmental protection and water-supply reliability. Instead the council approved a plan that excludes most water transfers from permitting requirements and lays the groundwork for Delta water-export tunnels.
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of groups from both Southern and Northern California, asserts that the Delta Plan violates the 2009 Delta Reform Act and the California Environmental Quality Act and the state Administrative Procedure Act. The coalition seeks to have the Delta Plan and its programmatic environmental impact report set aside for failing to disclose and analyze the devastating effects — on Northern California rivers, the Delta, and endangered fish species — resulting from taking enormous quantities of fresh water out of the Sacramento River upstream from the Delta. The lawsuit urges the court to suspend any activity based on the plan that could change the physical environment until the council has met its legal requirements. This would include delaying construction of the Brown administration’s proposed water-export tunnels
Bob Wright, senior counsel for Friends of the River, said: “Seeking relief from the courts is now necessary to protect our rivers and fish from this arbitrary, destructive action. The council’s plan is part of the worst threat to Northern California rivers in history, and continues state agencies’ efforts to take the water regardless of the adverse consequences. The Delta Plan calls for the Delta Water Tunnels with one hand. But with the other hand, the Delta Stewardship Council violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to disclose and analyze the devastating adverse environmental consequences on Northern California rivers, the Delta, and endangered species of fish resulting from taking enormous quantities of freshwater out of the Sacramento River upstream from the Delta.”
6-20-13 shit happensWe had nearly 40 media attend or request interviews for our announcement. We had print from throughout the state, including LA Times, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, and many others )even the Palm Springs Desert Sun) We had news services including AP, BNA, Greenwire and Bay City News Service We had broadcast media including KGO from the SF-Bay area, KFBK , KCRA , and Capitol Public Radio all form the Sacramento area.
Here is some of what our partners had to say to the media:
 “No matter how you slice it, this plan is bad news for endangered fish, wildlife and the long-term health of the Delta,” said Adam Lazar, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately the Delta Stewardship Council seems more interested in catering to special interests than the communities it was supposed to protect.”
 “The Delta Reform Act gave the Delta Stewardship Council a historic opportunity to remedy 40 years of water policy failures. The council instead failed to use the best available science — biological or economic — and adopted a status quo program that fails to fix the Delta or the water-supply problem,” said Santa Barbara resident Carolee Krieger, executive director of the statewide California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), a statewide water advocacy organization. “The council failed to honor its own mandate: the adoption of an effective strategy for the distribution of water and the preservation of the Delta.”
6-20-13 legis solutionBill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said: “California is in a water crisis, and the biological tapestry of the Delta is hemorrhaging. The causes are obvious: We’ve overpromised, wasted and inequitably allocated limited water resources. We’ve deprived the estuary of more than half its flow, turned its hydrograph on its head and used its waters as sewers. This crisis evolved because state and federal agencies egregiously failed to enforce and comply with the broad suite of laws enacted to prevent it. We implored the council to undertake a series of necessary analyses because the responsible agencies have refused to conduct them. Because the council failed to identify and analyze the root causes of California’s water crisis — over-appropriation, unreasonable use, failure to balance the public trust — the plan and EIR are little more than a ratification of an unsustainable status quo. It largely recommends that agencies should continue to do the same things that created the crisis in the first place. The plan and EIR ignore history and are predicated on an artificial reality. They’re little more than omelets of half-truth and distortion to justify predetermined conclusions.”
Barbara Vlamis of Chico, executive director of AquAlliance, said: “We join this lawsuit because we are the heart of the area of origin for the Sacramento River watershed. The Tuscan Aquifer in Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties is the groundwater foundation that supports the streams and rivers that are vital for farms, fish, and communities throughout California. The Delta Plan’s goal to expand groundwater storage north of the Delta is a fool’s errand. The state of California has failed to protect its groundwater, and has acknowledged serious overdraft in 11 basins. The only reason we don’t know of more overdraft conditions is because the state Department of Water Resources hasn’t studied this since 1980! If water transfers increase in scope and duration, particularly when groundwater is substituted for surface water, it will escalate the losses already underway in the Sacramento River watershed’s creeks and rivers and will jeopardize what remains of the hydrologic system that supports the majority of California’s economy, the Central Valley’s fish and flyway, and the largest estuary in North America: the Sacramento/San Joaquin Bay Delta.”
6-20-13 coffinBarbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said: “The Delta Stewardship Council failed their legislative mandate to address the protection and enhancement of Delta agriculture, and the Delta as a place, including failing to analyze the plan’s regional and statewide economic impacts. The council failed to conduct failed to conduct a comprehensive benefit/cost analysis indispensable for maximizing the use of limited resources for the greatest good for all Californians. And by not conducting this essential piece of work, they have forgotten the impacts of water diversions on the $5.2 billion annual Delta agriculture economy, the $750 million per year Delta recreation economy, and the $1.5 billion per year California coastal salmon economy. We believe the reason the council refused to perform all the above analyses is that they expect the science would not support the construction of the Peripheral Tunnels. There is a better solution that includes upgrading Delta levees, reducing exported water to a sustainable level that restores fisheries and investing in regional water projects.”
Mike Jackson, attorney for C-WIN, Restore the Delta, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, and AquAlliance, said: “This lawsuit challenges the foundation that is being laid to build the water export tunnels. Without the Delta Plan in place, the tunnels cannot win approval for the needed permits. This is the opening salvo in what will be an epic legal battle over California’s water future.”
6-20-13 BANG graphic
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)
The BDCP is a Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Communities Conservation Plan.  While the Plan ostensibly is intended to recover endangered species in the Delta, it is mostly focused on construction of giant tunnels that will primarily carry subsidized irrigation water under the Delta to corporate agricultural operations in the Western San Joaquin Valley and in Southern California.  If approved, the plan would provide the basis for a 50-year permit to cover the pumping of the State Water Project (SWP), operated by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) in coordination with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (BOR’s) Central Valley Project (CVP).  The current version of the BDCP proposes construction of three new intakes on a stretch of the Sacramento River near Hood.  Twin tunnels at least 40 feet wide and 150 feet deep would convey water to the existing pumping plants in the south Delta near Tracy.  From there, water would be delivered to the canals that supply Southern California, the Santa Clara Valley, and the San Joaquin Valley.
Problems with the Plan:
  • A key issue regarding the Plan is its failure to determine how much water the Delta ecosystem needs and to commit to meet those needs first before moving forward with a new canal that could further drain the estuary of much needed fresh water.  If the current schedule is maintained, the BDCP will be approved long before the State Water Resources Control Board adopts water quality criteria and flow standards for the Delta and the rivers that feed it. This backwards sequence of approvals ensures that, if approved, the BDCP will not include adequate information about the requisite amount of flows needed by endangered fish species.
  • The canal is directly tied to the construction of new or expanded surface storage dams (inefficient and expensive) and reservoirs in California. In particular, the BDCP may be a catalyst to the approval of the 18-foot raise of the Shasta Dam and the Sites Offstream Reservoir Project in the Sacramento Valley, and build the Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River. Friends of the River has criticized these projects as too expensive and relatively ineffective in producing new water supplies. Reasonable investments in water conservation, recycling and reclamation, and environmentally beneficial groundwater management will produce far more water at a fraction of the cost of new and expanded dams.
  • The current version of the BDCP contains regulatory assurances for water contractors, which shields them from any liability if fish populations start to crash, as we suspect they will. Without adequate mitigation, these already declining populations will likely be decimated.
  • Even organizations that have endorsed the idea of building tunnels or canals under the Delta have raised sharp criticism of the current BDCP, noting, among other things, that the assumed operation cannot be reconciled with upstream uses. Link to the Mount Saracino report:
  • Undoubtedly, the BDCPand new dam proposals will be the centerpiece of yet another water bond .Whether legislators or California voters will be willing to take on yet another multi-billion boondoggle project remains to be seen.
Next Steps
The release of the public draft BDCP is currently scheduled for November 15, 2013. Friends of the River will be reviewing the lengthy analysis and especially looking for improved analysis on protections for endangered fish species. Stay tuned for more information and sign up for our newsletter River Advocate to receive updates on this and other river news!
6-20-13 schematicSome Water Facts
The Peripheral Canal and new or expanded dams are not needed to meet California’s water needs. Water conservation, recycling and reclamation, and environmentally beneficial groundwater management can easily meet our needs at a fraction of the cost. The Delta ecosystem has been damaged by the construction and operation of upstream dams and by the pumping of fresh water from the Delta for export south. It is a fundamental reality that we cannot restore the Delta by building more dams upstream, as well as a canal that will facilitate continued or expanded exports. Most of the state is not as dependent on Delta water exports as claimed by the Governor and other elected officials. Statewide, Delta exports via the state and federal water projects make up less than 12% of the state's developed water supply. Even southern California cities receive only about 20% of their water from the Delta. Local surface storage projects, groundwater, and reuse/recycling provide most of the consumptive water supplies in California. No one is demanding that all Delta exports end. However, many independent scientists agree that Delta exports must be reduced in order for the Delta ecosystem and its endangered species to recover. Delta fish populations, including Delta smelt, longfin smelt, and stripped bass, have dropped to all time lows. Central Valley salmon populations, which must migrate through the Delta, have also declined to all time lows. Delta water fails to meet state and federal water quality standards. Delta exports significantly contribute to all these problems.
Friends of the River supports the Responsible Exports Plan put forward by the Environmental Water Caucus that prioritizes wise water management and local supply development over unsustainable exports from the Delta

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