Lawsuits Against Delta Tunnels Project Pile Up

Aug 21, 2017

Lawsuits against the proposed Delta tunnels, California’s biggest infrastructure project in a generation are inundating courts as local governments, environmental groups and fishing interests seek to block the project ahead of a deadline. NSPR’s Marc Albert reports: 

Butte County-based AquAlliance and ten other groups filed a lawsuit accusing the state Department of Water Resources of producing a faulty environmental assessment of the project’s impacts.  

Barbara Vlamis is executive director of AquAlliance. 

“When reviewing those voluminous documents, that were over 40,000 pages, we found numerous omissions or failures to analyze,” Vlamis said.

The suit comes after Butte County and Sacramento County each filed their own suits. Restore the Delta, a group backed by Delta farmers, has filed its own suit as have Placer County, and the cities of Antioch and Stockton.  

Butte County’s suit likewise faults the environmental analysis, though it also says the state failed to properly study possible economic impacts. County officials reason that revenue from boating and tourism would fall significantly if the tunnels meant officials would hold less water in Lake Oroville.    

The $17 billion plan would connect the Delta pumps and California Aqueduct with the Sacramento River via two 30-mile long tunnels. Essentially, it would move the intakes far upstream. Currently, pumping is occasionally limited or ceased to prevent the killing of endangered fish.  

Backers, including the state Department of Water Resources say with the tunnels, the pumps wouldn’t be shut down as often. 

Vlamis said the project would severely damage already ebbing environmental conditions in the Delta. 

“If you syphon off more fresh water from the Delta, how is that going to improve it,” she said. 

The project has similarities to the voter rejected peripheral canal.  

The project would also eliminate a decades-old threat to water supplies for San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California more generally. Experts have warned that failure of century old Delta levees in an earthquake or flood would leave the pumps well above the water line, interrupting water supplies.