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Restore the Delta responds to 'portfolio-based' single tunnel proposal

by: Dan Bacher

Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 23:57:14 PM PST

Restore the Delta (RTD) on January 17 responded to a "portfolio-based" single peripheral tunnel alternative proposal to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) developed by a coalition of environmental NGOs, business groups and water districts.

"RTD welcomes the thoughtful effort, diligence and care for the environment that went into the 'Portfolio-based' proposal," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of RTD, a coalition of farmers, fishermen, environmentalists and business owners dedicated to a fair water policy.

This new alternative proposes the analysis of a smaller, less expensive new Delta facility - a 3,000 cfs diversion facility and a single tunnel designed to transport 3,000 cfs without the need for a separate energy source, according to Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) It also proposes to restore 40,000 acres of Delta habitat over the next 15-20 years.    

While Barrigan-Parrilla said this proposal and other alternatives to the current BDCP should be studied, she questioned whether the water contractors would pay for a single tunnel that would deliver them less water than the twin tunnels.

"Restore the Delta believes that all suggested alternatives to the BDCP should be on the table and studied thoroughly," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "And where we find ideas in these other proposals that we agree with, like developing water self-sufficiency for other parts of California, we will be supportive. We look forward to working with all interested parties to find a fair, sustainable solution to the water issues."

"The question with the portfolio-based alternative to the BDCP is, 'why would water contractors pay for a tunnel that would deliver less water?' Their agencies cannot afford it. There is already doubt that they can afford to pay for the currently proposed tunnels, which would deliver between 4.5 and 6 million acre feet of water," she noted.

"We maintain that the best way to restore the Delta is to improve levees to the highest standard, to add habitat to those wide upgraded levees, to restore flows in and through the Delta, to screen the existing pumps properly, in addition to promoting regional self-sufficiency for water development in other parts of the state.

If the existing pumps at Tracy remain in use, and a 3000 cfs tunnel is added at Hood, the total export capacity from the Delta would remain at 6 million acre feet. You cannot restore the Delta by taking that much water out of it," concluded Barrigan-Parrilla. (http://www.restorethedelta.org)

The portofolio-based proposal was released as the Brown and Obama administrations are fast-tracking the plan to build twin tunnels to divert more California Delta water to corporate agribusiness and Southern California water agencies.

In May 2012, the Environmental Water Caucus, a coalition of fishing groups, Indian Tribes and environmental organizations, released an innovative alternative to the BDCP that provides water supply reliability while reducing water exports from the California Delta. (http://www.ewccalifornia.org/reports/REDUCEDEXPORTSPLAN.pdf)

According to a press release from environmental and business groups announcing the single tunnel proposal, "Investing in a broad portfolio of Bay-Delta water solutions can save Californians billions of dollars in costs while increasing water supply and strengthening protections for the ailing delta ecosystem and its fisheries, according to a new proposal released today by business and conservation groups in advance of the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan expected next month."

"By reducing the size - and cost - of a delta facility and habitat restoration, the proposal shows that billions of dollars could be saved and invested in a range of proven, cost-effective regional water solutions," the release states.

These solutions include:

• Dramatically increasing local water recycling and conservation: Boosts water supply overall and improves the reliability of water in dry years by investing in local solutions south of the delta.

• Reinforcing delta levees: Reduces vulnerability to earthquakes, sea level rise and climate change impacts.

• Improving cooperation among water agencies: Strengthens collaboration among water agencies to maximize the benefits of water recycling and groundwater management to provide new water supplies at lower costs.

• Developing new water storage south of the delta: Improves our ability to store water in wet years to meet needs in dry years when high delta pumping levels can be most harmful.  

The proposal is available at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/bl...

Representative George Miller lauds 'fresh approach'

Congressman George Miller (D - Concord) praised the proposal. "This is the kind of fresh approach that is needed to protect the Bay-Delta environment, state taxpayers, and meet California's water needs," said Miller. "I know how powerful it can be when thoughtful environmentalists, business leaders and urban water agencies reach common ground on the water solutions that are so critical to our state's future."

A group of conservation and business groups, including The Bay Institute, the Contra Costa Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Entrepreneurs, the Planning and Conservation League and the Natural Resources Defense Council, sent a letter urging U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Secretary John Laird, Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral and Commissioner Michael Connor to consider seriously this alternative as they move forward to finalize the plan for the future of the delta. (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/bnelson/BDCP%20Conceptual%20Alternative%20Cover%20Letter%201-16-13%20V2.pdf)

Separately, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and a group of urban water agencies, including Contra Costa Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Alameda County Water District, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, San Diego County Water Authority and Otay Water District also sent a joint letter in support of careful analysis of this new proposal. (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/bnelson/Urban%20Agency%20Letter%20re%20BDCP%201-16-13.pdf)  

Delta fish populations plunge

The release of the proposal took place as Delta fish populations continue to collapse, due massive water exports out of the state and federal pumping facilities. The fall midwater trawl survey completed on December 31 by the CDFW revealed that the population of threadfin shad plummeted to its lowest ever number, while Sacramento splittail, longfin smelt and American shad reached their second lowest recorded abundance. Striped bass and Delta smelt hit their seventh lowest numbers.

Millions of fish are killed in the Delta pumps every year in spite of the fact that the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush in the fall of 1992, set a goal of doubling the Bay-Delta watershed's Chinook salmon runs from 495,000 to 990,000 wild adult fish by 2002. The legislation also mandated the doubling of other anadromous fish species, including Central Valley steelhead, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, striped bass and American shad, by 2002.

Rather than doubling, the Central Valley Chinook salmon fishery has suffered a dramatic collapse over the past decade, now standing at only 13 percent of the population goal required by federal law.

A NRDC and GGSA analysis, published in the Salmon Doubling Index in November 2012, reveals a steady decline in Bay-Delta Chinook salmon from 2003 through 2010, including a record low of 7 percent. The closest we ever got to meeting the salmon doubling goal was in 2002, when the index peaked at 64.33% of the doubling goal.

The construction of the twin peripheral tunnels would likely hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species, according to agency and independent scientists.

For more information on the alternative plan, see the following links:
· Complete alternative proposal: http://bit.ly/13E0xsi
· Conceptual alternative portfolio approach illustration: http://bit.ly/W7kB0V
· Current BDCP approach illustration: http://bit.ly/X8nu0C
· NRDC Kate Poole's blog: http://bit.ly/XeNjwQ
· NRDC Barry Nelson's blog: http://bit.ly/SLmvbU

Dan Bacher :: Restore the Delta responds to 'portfolio-based' single tunnel proposal
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