Feature Photo: The Sacramento River near Freeport, site of the intakes for the proposed Delta Conveyance. (© Rich Turner)
Like Godzilla attacking Tokyo, the Delta tunnel periodically revives and menaces the Delta and Stockton with destruction. Now, the monster is back, renamed the “Delta Conveyance.”
Where is the Science Patrol when you need them?
Not in the draft Environmental Impact Report released Wednesday by the Department of Water Resources. The 3,000 page document is chock full of scientific data showing the tunnel will be bad for the Delta – and perversely concludes everything will be just fine.
“DWR does good research and good reports,” said Barbara Barrigan Parilla of Restore the Delta. “Then they write conclusions that do not match the data. It’s almost as if some political expert comes in and writes the conclusions.”
The DWR’s own models show that diverting 6,000 cubic feet a second of water from the Sacramento River through a 45-mile underground tunnel significantly reduces juvenile salmon survival throughout the Delta.
Hurts Delta smelt, too. Salmon are wondrous and essential to certain California tribes; the smelt is an essential strand in the Delta’s web of life.
Conclusion: Git ’er done!
This Godzilla differs from the last Godzilla in a couple ways. The last called for two tunnels; this, only one. The last proposed to deliver water to both state and federal systems; this, only to the State Water Project (SWP) customers.
This one is smaller but not cheaper. Though the report doesn’t name a price, officials ballpark around $15.9 billion, which was the cost of the Twin Tunnels.
Time to paraphrase Wise Old Willie Brown: the stated price of a major public works project is just a down payment to get the public on board. The true price is in the cost overruns.
Despite stories calling the Delta Conveyance “scaled back,” it may suck as much water as the Twin Tunnels—or more. Remember, only one of the Twin Tunnels was supposed to operate at a time; the Delta Conveyance tunnel is bigger.
“For the health of the Delta, the size of the facility matters much less than how it’s operated,” said Doug Obegi, of the Natural Resource Defense Council. “A huge facility can take a dribble of water,” and a small facility may take the proverbial Big Gulp.
Restore the Delta estimates the tunnel will take 300,000 to 500,000 acre feet more a year than presently.
Besides, for decades, California governors have used emergency authority given them by the state constitution to ignore environmental restrictions and allow the pumps to keep sucking water.
The problem the Delta Conveyance purports to solve involves two giant pumping stations in the south Delta near Tracy. The pumps are so strong they reverse the flow of rivers and confuse or “entrain” (grind up) migrating fish.
Now, as extinctions loom, courts and regulators have slapped restrictions on pumping. Farmers and cities can’t get all the water they want. Piping water under the Delta would fix things, proponents say.
Backers also claim the harmful effects of taking even more water can be mitigated by restoring habitat. Not so, said Obegi.
“DWR tries to wave that all away with magical thinking with tidal marsh restoration. Habitat restoration can have a lot of benefits, but it cannot substitute for adequate flows for longfin smelt or salmon.”
Fish need water. Any arguments? Unfortunately, yes.
“The proposed Delta Conveyance Project is a key climate adaptation strategy that would ensure the SWP can capture, move and store water when it is available for the 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland that depend on it,” the State Water Contractors said in a statement.
Interestingly, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a Goliath with 19 million water users, was uncharacteristically tepid.
“Now is a learning moment to review this proposal,” hemmed and hawed Adel Hagekhalil, the agency’s general manager.
Gloria D. Gray, chairwoman of Metropolitan’s Board of Directors, issued another less-than-rapturous statement. She called the Delta Conveyance “important but, “… (W)e are trying to shift our reliance on imported water as quickly as possible with new local supplies and greater local conservation.”
Almost as if the Met has realized it’s not the best solution and they can’t count on it anyway and they are moving on. New management may have something to do with this shift.
Several fundamental misconceptions underlie the Delta Conveyance, Barrigan Parilla said. Like not bringing supply and demand into balance. Not revising California’s pioneer-era system of water rights. Not drawing the right conclusions from climatologists.
“The Newsom administration is ignoring the aridification of California,” she said. “It’s not just a couple dry years anymore. This is the new norm.”
Also wrong is California’s neo-colonial treatment of the Delta and San Joaquin Valley.
California calls itself progressive. But the Golden State has always been about reckless extraction of resources to get filthy rich: starting with gold and going right up to Big Ag’s water grabs; its exploitation of Mexican labor; it’s political domination right out of “The Octopus.”
There’s nothing progressive about grabbing the natural resources of one of the state’s poorest regions. Except perhaps that the governor wants to progress from the statehouse to the White House.
“It seems like DWR has taken a big step backwards,” said Obegi, who expected the state to propose taking less water, not more. “I was frankly shocked. It just makes it look more like a water grab and not a serious attempt to balance water supply and demand.”
Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: email@example.com.