Restore the Delta Opposes Both Twin and Single Tunnel Proposals
By Dan Bacher
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 as part of a "portfolio-based" alternative to be considered under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).
"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."
I agree with Barrigan-Parrilla 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, 19th century solution to a 21st 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.
I'll end with a question that has never been answered by Delta tunnel 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?
Restore the Delta is a 7000-member grassroots organization committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. Restore the Delta works to improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Dan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer, described as "The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen."