Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , Leave a comment on Op-Ed: Time to stop the tunnel vision

Op-Ed: Time to stop the tunnel vision

Kathryn Phillips, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
For many Californians, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is known only as a place mentioned in magazine ads about houseboat vacations.
That the Delta, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet the San Francisco Bay, is only vaguely understood in the state’s main population centers makes it easier to confuse people about the Delta’s value to the whole state and about the greatest threats to its future.
Gov. Jerry Brown demonstrated that recently when he announced his administration’s latest plans for the Delta.
First, the governor scaled back to 30,000 acres – a drop of 70 percent – the amount of the ecologically declining Delta area that would be targeted for restoration. He said this cut would allow restoration to start now to stanch sharply dropping native fish populations in the largest estuary on the West Coast of North America. The smaller the restoration, the easier it would be to direct state money to get it done.
Then, almost in the same breath, Brown reiterated his plan to build two giant, 40-foot-diameter tunnels through the Delta region. What he didn’t mention was that his tunnels plan would likely wipe out many of the species he claimed to be helping.
The tunnels would suck water more directly from the Sacramento River north of the Delta to parts south of the Delta. This almost guarantees that regular freshwater flows essential to keep the Delta ecosystem healthy would not improve or would actually worsen.
The tunnels would also require years of super-heavy construction activity in habitat for about 750 species, including endangered fish, birds and other wildlife. Then, once construction was done, the water diversion and pumping regimen would likely lead to more disruption and endangerment of any wildlife species that survive the construction.
Additionally, the tunnels plan would stir up massive loads of mercury and other chemicals and silt, further degrading an already compromised water source for urban and rural areas.
The environmental and ecosystem impacts would be so enormous that in August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the state that the environmental impact report for the tunnels – called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which at that time included 100,000 acres of restoration – was riddled with gaps and contradictions.
Since then, the tunnels plan has appeared to be stalled. The Brown administration assured everyone that the problems with the environmental impact report could be easily fixed, and those fixes would be revealed in a new version soon.
Then this latest proposal surfaced. In essence, the administration decided it would be easier to do the Bay Delta Plan without most of the Conservation.
In making his announcement about this new approach, Brown told the gathered media that the reduction in restoration to accelerate efforts to save the fish was essential. “If anyone has a better alternative, certainly we’ll hear it.”
Here’s the better alternative: Restore the Delta and drop the tunnels proposal. Instead, turn more attention, and money, to the rest of the California Water Action Plan to make every region’s water system more resilient and self-reliant.
To understand that better alternative, the Brown administration and the concrete-loving Department of Water Resources need to face a few hard realities.
The tunnels will not create water. They will only move water, and they will be an incredibly expensive way to move water, both financially and environmentally. Honest cost estimates for the tunnels, with appropriate mitigation for damage, run from about $20 billion to $40 billion.
The Sierra snowpack is no longer a reliable source of water year-round. Climate change has changed what we can expect and anticipate for future water availability. If the tunnels were in operation today, they wouldn’t have much available water to move.Spending money on huge infrastructure projects to move water around is a waste. This is especially true when so many cheaper options for “creating” local water have gone unfunded or unenforced. This includes improving water efficiencies, water recycling and water conservation.
Finally, the current drought won’t be the last or even, possibly, the worst we see in California now that climate change is upon us.
The Delta is teetering between salvation and ecosystem collapse. If we respond to this latest drought by creating a smarter water system throughout California, and reducing our farm and drinking water dependence on the Delta, we have a chance of saving that ecosystem.We can’t do that, though, if the state’s governor and water engineers continue to have tunnel vision.
Kathryn Phillips is director of Sierra Club California, the advocacy arm of Sierra Club’s 13 chapters in California.
Source: Time to stop the tunnel vision | The Sacramento Bee

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Op-Ed: Governor abandons pretext of saving fisheries: Ignores co-equal goals requirement for delta

Op-Ed: Governor abandons pretext of saving fisheries: Ignores co-equal goals requirement for delta

Steve Hopcraft and Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, RESTORE THE DELTA

On April 30, Governor Jerry Brown announced he will rename the Bay Delta Conservation Plan tunnels (BDCP) to “California Water Fix.” The separate habitat restoration part will be called “California Eco-Restore.”

Restore the Delta (RTD) and other opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build massive underground water tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom sustainable farms, salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today responded to Gov. Brown’s abandonment of habitat restoration in his Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) tunnels project, saying the new plan violates the statutory ‘co-equal goals’, end-runs the EPA and federal scientists who refused to issue permits for the project.
The governor has called the massive change “technical,” but opponents said it results from fatal flaws in the BDCP and the lack of funding for the restoration formerly proposed under the BDCP.
The new maneuver ignores the judgment of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Delta Independent Science Board (DISB), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after scientific reviews that the tunnels project didn’t meet minimum Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Clean Water Act (CWA) standards.
The agencies found in particular that the project would jeopardize, rather than help recover key species, and violate anti-degradation laws to protect the Delta waterways as fishable, swimmable and drinkable.
Read more via: Restore the Delta Blog — News about California’s Most Important Estuary

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Delta habitat conservation plan scrapped as Governor prioritizes agribusiness

Delta habitat conservation plan scrapped as Governor prioritizes agribusiness

David Siders and Phillip Reese, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
For years, Gov. Jerry Brown used the promise of habitat restoration to broaden the appeal of his plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south.
Designating the project as a habitat conservation plan – and securing a 50-year permit for the effort – not only gave water users paying for the project an assurance water deliveries could not easily be changed, but also cast the project as more than a standalone conveyance.
The $25 billion project, Brown said in his State of the State address in 2013, was “designed to improve the ecology of the Delta, with almost 100 square miles of habitat restoration.
”Brown’s announcement Thursday that he was dramatically reducing the habitat portion of the plan is expected to make permitting the project easier. But it also burdens the project with new political difficulties. Ecosystem restoration has long been part of efforts to bridge the fractured interests of farmers, environmentalists, Delta landowners and Southern California’s population centers, and reducing its emphasis has invigorated opponents of the effort.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a group opposed to the project, said in a prepared statement that the project “has now shifted from a proposal to protect 56 species, and over 100,000 acres of habitat, to a straight water grab” from the Delta.
Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said Brown needs to forget the tunnels and move on. “Today’s announcement confirms what I feared in 2009,” she said in a prepared statement. “The commitment to co-equal goals in the Delta has been broken. The tunnels will move forward, and the commitment to the health of the Delta has been reduced in large part, and relegated to a separate track.”
The new plan reduces to about 30,000 acres of restoration an initial effort to restore 100,000 acres of wetland and wildlife habitat. The projected cost is about $300 million, a tiny fraction of the $8 billion originally planned.
The change comes after federal agencies balked at a 50-year permit, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying last year that the project could violate the federal Clean Water Act and harm endangered fish.Brown said Thursday that the original restoration plan was only an “idea.” He said the state did not have the money to restore 100,000 acres, but that with money from a voter-approved water bond and other sources, restoring 30,000 acres can be done.
Read more via: Jerry Brown’s revised water tunnels plan adds political problems | The Sacramento Bee The Sacramento Bee

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on Pumps dropped from Delta water tunnel plan

Pumps dropped from Delta water tunnel plan

The massive water diversion tunnels proposed in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have undergone another major design change aimed at appeasing local residents: The three intakes planned on the Sacramento River will no longer require pumps.
The project, known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, has been in the works for eight years and is estimated to cost $25 billion. It calls for a pair of giant tunnels, 40 feet in diameter, that would draw water out of the Sacramento River and route it 30 miles away to existing state and federal diversion canals near Tracy. The goal is to improve reliability of water supplies drawn from the estuary while also restoring its natural environment.
Instead of giant electric pumps, the plan now calls for water to enter the three huge intakes by gravity flow. This, in turn, means most tall buildings can be eliminated at each intake. And there will be no need for permanent new high-voltage power lines. New power lines are still required to serve the tunneling machines, but these would be considered temporary: They would be removed after the 10-year construction period.
The project still includes massive water pumps, but they would now be at the project’s southern end, at Clifton Court Forebay, an existing reservoir near Tracy. They would move water from the new tunnel outlets to existing canals that distribute water across the state.
Read more via Pumps dropped from Delta water tunnel plan | The Sacramento Bee.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on EPA Says Delta water tunnels could violate federal environmental law, harm fish

EPA Says Delta water tunnels could violate federal environmental law, harm fish


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials say California’s $25 billion plan to build an enormous pair of twin tunnels system to pump water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to other parts of the state may violate federal environmental law and harm endangered fish.

In a 43-page letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service released on the EPA’s website on Thursday as part of the agency’s official public comment to the state’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the federal agency said it is concerned that the BDCP as currently proposed “may result in violations of Clean Water Act water quality standards and further degrade the ecosystem.”

via EPA Says Delta Water Tunnels Could Violate Federal Environmental Law, Harm Fish « CBS San Francisco.