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Restore the Delta opposes both twin and single tunnel proposals

by: Dan Bacher

Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 15:39:27 PM PST


Restore the Delta (RTD) opposes both Governor Jerry Brown's plan to build two peripheral tunnels and a separate proposal to build a single peripheral tunnel backed by several environmental NGOs, business groups and water agencies, according to RTD's executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla.

"We oppose the rush to build a project that would exterminate salmon runs, destroy sustainable family farms and saddle taxpayers with tens of billions in debt, mainly to benefit a small number of huge corporate agribusinesses on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley," said Barrigan-Parrilla.

She said Governor Brown's Peripheral Tunnel proposal is "fatally flawed."

"It's a bad investment," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "The total cost is unknown; the financing unsecured, and the only certainty is water customers will pay billions and billions in increased rates. There's a better solution than to drain the Delta, burden taxpayers with tens of billions, and extinguish native salmon to mainly benefit a small number of huge corporate mega-farms that are unsustainable."

She said this plan would increase water rates for Southern Californians, who would not get any increase in water but would subsidize San Joaquin farmers, who would get more water. The taxpayers of the south pay the debt for the water facilities, while much of the water is virtually donated to the agribusiness giants of Kern.

"Two-thirds of the water taken from the Delta will go to land-rich mega-farmers and billionaires in Westlands, Kern and Semitropic Water Districts, many of whom will water cotton, almonds and other permanent, water-intensive crops, planted on arid land. Large portions of these crops are for export to India and China. The billionaires will sell some of the water to desert developers," Barrigan-Parrilla noted.

While opposing the Governor's twin tunnel proposal, Barrigan-Parrilla said a single Peripheral Tunnel would still harm the Delta, and wouldn't be cost-effective for the water-takers. The single tunnel proposal was released part of portfolio-based" alternative to be considered under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). http://switchboard.nrdc.org/bl...

"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," she noted.

"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," stated Barrigan-Parilla. "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," she concluded.

Kate Poole of NRDC responded to Barrigan-Parrilla's question, "Why would water contractors pay for a tunnel that would deliver less water?'" by saying, "This question misses the mark for at least three reasons." For her complete response, go to: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/bl...

"No tunnel is best," said Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. "Clean up the water programs are needed for all the contaminated rivers in California! Where are those billions of dollars programs?"

I agree with Barrigan-Parrilla and Chief Sisk that both the twin tunnel and single tunnel proposal concepts are flawed, even though the single tunnel would apparently be less destructive than the two tunnels.  

Both will take water from the Sacramento River in the North Delta, preventing that water from flowing through the Delta as it should to sustain Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations. How can we trust the state and federal governments and the state water contractors to install state of the art fish screens to stop massive fish kills at these new pumping facilities when state of the art fish screens have never been installed at the existing South Delta water export facilities, as mandated under the CalFed process?

Six Delta fish populations - Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad, American shad, striped bass and Sacramento splittail - continue to plummet, as revealed by the results of the Department of Fish and Wildlife's fall midwater trawl survey.

The problem is that the very concept of a peripheral tunnel or canal, regardless of whether it is a single or twin facility, is an outdated Nineteenth Century solution to a Twenty-First Century problem. The solution to solving both ecosystem restoration and water supply needs is using creative alternatives, such as those embodied in the Environmental Water Caucus alternative to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels. We don't need a single tunnel or twin tunnels when we have other alternatives.

The caucus provided a series of recommendations on water, "California Water Solutions Now," that included an aggressive statewide water conservation program that can reduce water use by 8 million acre feet annually and the retirement of toxic farmlands that use almost 4 million acre feet of water per year. They paired their recommendations with a reduction of Delta pumping that will help restore the Bay-Delta ecology and fisheries.

For the complete "California Water Solutions Now" report, go to: http://www.ewccalifornia.org/r...

I'll end with a question that has never been answered by Delta tunnel and canal proponents: Can anybody point to a single example where a diversion tunnel, canal or other facility in a river system or estuary has led to restoration of an ecosystem rather than its destruction?

For more information about Restore the Delta, go to: http://www.restorethedelta.org  

Dan Bacher :: Restore the Delta opposes both twin and single tunnel proposals
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I've never understood (0.00 / 0)
As your piece correctly points out, farmers in the Central Valley who knew they faced uncertain water supplies because they have what are called "junior" water rights--and knew they were planting in an arid area--still plant water-intensive crops with a need for continuous water supplies. This has never made sense to me. Nor does it make sense to me that the state should spend billions ($51 last I heard for one tunnel) to rescue them from this poor business decision.

I have never understood why the needs of Central Valley farmers and developers should trump Delta farmers and fishermen--many of whom have "senior" water rights. Both provide food and jobs for Californians. But the folks in the Delta seem to get ignored a lot.

I have never understood why nobody is talking about using water more wisely, and about protecting groundwater supplies. Anybody who drives through the Central Valley sees farmers using overhead watering in the middle of the day. This is a very wasteful way to use water. Plus, farmers there have destroyed their own water table by overpumping and by introducing high levels of fertilizer and pesticide into it. In many farming communities, residents can no longer use the water to drink or wash. Plus, the ground is subsiding so much from overpumping that they can measure it from space.

I don't know why nobody is proposing to use existing infrastructure to move whatever water is deemed appropriate. It would be a lot cheaper than building new tunnels.

I don't see why the governor thinks it's okay to overturn 150 years of water-rights court cases as an executive decision.

But, most important, I agree with the chief that we need to spend money cleaning up the upstream pollution that's ruining the Delta water. Otherwise we're just spreading the badly treated wastewater that cities are pumping into the rivers, and that is ruining the delta ecosystem.

One tunnel or two will not solve any of these existing issues. Nor will it solve future ones. Worse yet, the last proposal to fund this scheme relied on taxpayer funding, rather than the typical user-funded plan. And it allowed the state to sell the infrastructure to private buyers after the public paid for it. This was not a good deal for taxpayers when they did it with the Kern Water Bank. If the governor is still proposing this, I doubt it will be any better.


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