Kathleen Ronayne, ASSOCIATED PRESS
California Gov. Gavin Newsom scrapped a $16 billion plan Thursday to build two giant water tunnels to reroute the state’s water system and instead directed state agencies to restart planning for a single tunnel.
The move came after $240 million has already been spent on the project championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to divert water from the north to the state’s drier south.
Newsom had signaled the move in his February State of the State address. He made the change official when he asked state agencies to withdraw existing permit applications and start over.
“I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already been done,” he has said.
Brown wanted to build two, 35-mile-long (55-kilometer-long) tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River, the state’s largest river, to the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Local water agencies were expected to foot the roughly $16 billion bill.
A single tunnel is expected to cost less, but officials haven’t yet set a price tag, said Erin Mellon, spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources. Nor has the state determined how much water would flow through a single tunnel.
Read more at https://www.apnews.com/42964ecbd904409392551d8fdd67ca58
John McManus, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Today, many Northern California commercial fishermen sit in harbors along our coast worrying about their bills and waiting for another disastrously shortened salmon season to begin. Many businesses that serve the normally robust sport salmon fishery also have suffered because of the delay. River fishing guides have lost half their season as well.
Salmon numbers are predicted to be down from the lingering effects of the last drought and the damaging water allocation decisions that put salmon fishing families last. Meanwhile, San Joaquin Valley congressmen are hard at work tilting the balance of water in California toward valley agricultural barons.
These House members are acting like this is their last, best chance for a huge water grab. There are four separate riders in House budget bills aimed at seizing more Northern water at the expense of salmon and fishing families. None are responding to a crisis in agriculture. The past decade has seen record harvests, revenue and employment for California agriculture.
For salmon, it’s another story. During the past decade, California salmon fishermen have seen the two worst crises in state history. Our fishery was shut down entirely in 2008 and 2009 following record siphoning of Bay-Delta water. The Golden Gate Salmon Association and other fishing groups are seeing a second crisis today as salmon try to fight their way back from the drought.
The Bay-Delta’s salmon runs are the most important south of the Columbia River and the backbone of a $1.4 billion salmon fishing industry that supports 23,000 jobs.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8549850-181/close-to-home-stop-efforts
Dale Kasler, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
The troubled Delta tunnels project was officially downsized Wednesday, as Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration announced it would attempt to build a single tunnel in its effort to re-engineer California’s elaborate water-delivery system.
Unable to secure enough money from California’s water agencies for the original twin tunnels concept, the California Department of Water Resources said it would now try to build the project in phases: one tunnel now and a second tunnel years down the road.
The long-awaited announcement doesn’t appear to immediately solve the financial questions looming over the project, known officially as California WaterFix.
A letter to water agencies from DWR Director Karla Nemeth says the first tunnel would cost $10.7 billion. That’s much less than the price tag for building two tunnels, now officially pegged at $16.3 billion. But the one-tunnel option also is considerably more expensive than the estimated $6 billion to $6.5 billion that’s been pledged so far by participating south-of-Delta water agencies.
Read more at http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article198973869.html
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, was tapped Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown as the state’s new director for the Department of Water Resources, handing a veteran of North Bay politics and water policy a central role in Brown’s controversial bid to overhaul California’s water system with a $17 billion pair of tunnels under Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Davis, 54, has led the county Water Agency since 2010 and is set to begin in his new post in Sacramento in August, pending confirmation by the state Senate. The Department of Water Resources is the lead state agency providing water for 25 million residents, farms and business.
Its most contentious proposal under Brown is the pair of massive tunnels intended to convey Sacramento River water under the Delta and deliver it to users to the south, including farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.
“The governor supports that California WaterFix and so do I,” Davis said Wednesday, using the nickname for the disputed project that pits Northern California water and environmental interests against influential agricultural and urban users south of the Delta.“
I will be a major participant in that effort,” Davis said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was on an unrelated trip to lobby for funding to support long-range weather forecasting.
Davis would succeed former DWR Director Mark Cowin, who retired late last year along with the agency’s chief deputy director, Carl Torgersen. The appointment comes as the state continues to emerge from a historic five-year drought, with a push to fortify supplies, build new reservoirs and protect the environment — initiatives that can be in conflict.
Davis said there is “a long way to go” in addressing the state’s water demand and a need to “find a balance” between water supplies and protection of “habitat and fisheries.”
Read more at: Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources | The Press Democrat
Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, AP WIRE
National Marine Fisheries Service: California WaterFix Biological Opinion
Gov. Jerry Brown won crucial early approval from federal wildlife officials Monday for his $16 billion proposal to re-engineer California’s north-south water system, advancing his plan to build two giant tunnels to carry Northern California water to the south even though much about the project remains undetermined.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave their green light by finding that the project would not mean extinction for endangered and threatened native species of salmon and other fish. The project, which would tap part of the flow of California’s largest river, the Sacramento, would change the way the San Francisco Bay Area, the farm-rich Central Valley and populous Southern California get their water from what is the West Coast’s largest estuary.
The twin tunnels, both four stories high and 35 miles long, would be California’s most ambitious water project since the 1950s and 1960s. Then, Brown’s father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, helped oversee building of the pumps, dams, and aqueducts that move water from the green north to more arid south. Supporters say the tunnels are needed to modernize and secure water deliveries from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, now done by aging pumps that pull the rivers and the fish in them off-course.
Read more at: AP Wire
Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, THE WASHINGTON POST
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly reveal details of the talks.Some water district officials said the move, to be done by a group of regional California water agencies in what is called a joint-powers authority, or JPA, would speed up the mega-project, which they say is needed to modernize California’s existing north-south water delivery systems.
California’s powerful regional water districts are working alongside Gov. Jerry Brown to take on more responsibility for designing, building and arranging financing for a $15.7 billion twin tunnel project that would ship water southward from Northern California as they push to finally close the deal on the controversial plan, two officials working closely on the project told The Associated Press.
Talks among Brown’s office, state agencies and the water contractors have been under way since May that could lessen the state’s hands-on role in one of California’s biggest water projects in decades, according to the two sources, one a senior official involved in the project, the other an employee working closely on the project.
Critics who oppose the tunnels said the change could allow California’s big water districts to cut corners on issues affecting public safety and the environment.
Read more at: APNewsBreak: Water agencies push bigger role in tunnel plan – The Washington Post
Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS
Water Board documents
The State Water Resources Control Board announced on March 29 that they are suspending the upcoming deadlines for the California Water Fix/Delta Tunnels water rights change petition in response to a request by the state and federal water agencies to extend dates and deadlines for the scheduled hearing, along with a number of other requests either to dismiss or delay the petition.
On March 28, 2016, the Water Board hearing officers for the California WaterFix water right change petition hearing received a letter from the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requesting a 60-day continuance of all dates and deadlines associated with the hearing.
On the same day, the hearing officers also received a request from several parties to dismiss the petition. Then on March 29, the State Water Board received additional requests to delay and stay the hearing, pending resolution of several matters, according to a letter from Tam M. Doduc and Felicia Marcus, State Water Board WaterFix Co-Hearing Officers.
In their March 29 letter, ten representatives of environmental, fishing and farming groups called on Doduc and Marcus to dismiss the petition, stating, “We believe there are much better uses of everyone’s time, such as spending the necessary time to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan to adequately protect current beneficial uses.” (fishsniffer.com/..). In response to the various requests, the upcoming deadlines are suspended. “A ruling will be issued in the near future formally addressing the requests and providing additional information about the hearing schedule,” said Doduc and Marcus.
Read more at: A Chaotic Mess: State Water Board Suspends Delta Tunnels Deadlines
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
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
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