Claims And Counter-Claims About Proposed Delta Tunnels Continue

Jan 26, 2016

The proposed delta water tunnels are again in the news, as supporters and opponents redouble their efforts on the massive project.

The tunnels would bring Sacramento River water directly to irrigation pumps, bypassing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

A slick video released by the governor’s office and proponents recently has garnered headlines, while opponents continue warning that proceeding would assure environmental catastrophe. Meanwhile a few members of the legislature are attempting to place the mega-project on the ballot for an up or down vote by the people.

The video quickly lays out some of the current problems—intruding saltwater, endangered fish killed by pumps and interruptions in what gets sent to irrigators---and explains that the tunnels will fix all of them.

But to critics, it’s hardly that simple:

“Could you show me any estuary in the world that has been deprived of over half its flow and survived intact?”

That’s Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. Jennings and others say the project is an expensive solution that will only cause more and different problems.

“Can you show me any estuary in the world suffering from a lack of flow that has been protected by taking an additional three and a half million acre feet from it.”

Nancy Vogel, spokeswoman for the California Natural Resources Agency, said regardless of if the tunnels are built, water quality in the delta would have to meet the same standards. But Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, another group fighting the tunnels said Vogel’s assurances are meaningless. In an emergency, the standards are brushed aside.

“The last two years they have rolled back protections 15 times,” Barrigan-Parilla said.

Barrigan-Parilla also noted that officials are currently revising those standards and warned that tunnel proponents are attempting to weaken them.

Despite redoubled support from the governor, the project is facing headwinds. The federal EPA has labeled its environmental documents inadequate. Irrigation districts south of the Delta, who would pay a share of construction costs, have so far demurred. Meanwhile, on Friday, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman called the project a gussied up retread of 1982’s Peripheral Canal and introduced legislation putting the $15 to $25 billion proposal before the state’s voters. The earlier effort sank at the ballot box by close to a 2-1 margin.