California releases plan for single delta water tunnel

Governor Gavin Newsom said in 2019 he will cut back on the state’s plans to tunnel around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to deliver water to Southern California.

On Wednesday, he gave some details about that vague idea – 3,000 pages worth – revealing plans for a massive tunnel aimed at making water exports more reliable but at considerable cost to the delta farm economy and possibly its fragile ecosystem.

As historic droughts intensify, and rising sea levels threaten to make the delta more saline, water managers in California’s most populous metropolitan areas are growing increasingly concerned. about the existing system for pumping supplies across the delta – not just a hub for water transport but also an estuary home to rare species, some of which are on the brink of extinction.

Proposed Tunnel – is a stripped down version of the tunnel scenarios proposed by the Govs administration. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown – would take the excess water provided by major storms and redirect some of the Sacramento River’s flow to thirsty cities south. With that, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has been the main driver of this re-watering system.

“Climate change continues to threaten every source of water across the West,” said Adel Hagekhalil, superintendent of the Metropolitan Water District. “We have a responsibility to adapt to this change by capturing and storing excess water to protect our communities and the environment, and to provide productive use of stored water. That’s when conditions are dry.”

But the draft environmental impact report says the project – a modern version of the Peripheral Channel – will also cause “inevitable” impacts on delta farms, according to documents released by the government. father on Wednesday. It’s also unclear how much water will be diverted over different years and flow conditions, which environmentalists fear could harm indigestible fish such as chinook salmon, steelhead and trout melt.

Doug Obegi, a senior attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program, said: “The status quo in the delta endangers the continued survival of fish and wildlife species. our native land, as well as for the thousands of fishing jobs and communities that depend on a healthy environment. . “This proposed system would be even worse for the environment than the already degraded status quo.”

He said it’s also unclear whether the proposal would be allowed, given that federal and state laws could prohibit the diversion of altered water away from habitats that support already threatened species. If allowed, he said, it would be challenged in court.

The state-backed proposal outlines the construction of a tunnel – 36 feet in diameter on the inside – across the east side of the plain, while an earlier version goes down the middle. It would draw water from the Sacramento River, just 17 miles south of the state capitol, and transfer it to Bethany Reservoir, northwest of Tracy, where existing State Water Project pumps are located.

If built, it would be the state’s largest infrastructure project since the high-speed rail system, a project that has faced numerous delays, cost overruns and litigation – hurdles to overcome. Barriers can also impede water tunnels. It will also create thousands of jobs — a reason the state’s powerful labor unions have backed versions of it for decades, along with many governors.

Running cost estimates are around $16 billion — $3 billion less than the previous iteration, a dual-tunnel system proposed in 2018, during Brown’s administration.

Major water counties, including the Metropolitan Water District and the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose, have funded the planning of the tunnel system for many years. They are joined by 14 other water agencies receiving water from the State Water Project.

Between 2021 and 2024, the group of water agencies, known as the Delta Conveyor Construction and Design Agency, has planned to spend about $360 million on the effort. The Metropolitan Water District is growing by about 44% — about $160 million.

The single-tunnel project is smaller than the iterations proposed in the Brown and Schwarzenegger administrations. This new one has a maximum capacity of 6,000 cubic feet per second, while Brown’s plan calls for a 50% higher capacity. Schwarzenegger’s plan is even bigger – 15,000 cubic feet per second.

While huge, all of these projects will transport significantly less water than one proposed in the 1980s: The Peripheral Canal, defeated by voters, has maximum capacity 22,000 cubic feet per second.

Although the proposed tube would be smaller, it could actually deliver almost as much water as some previous versions, said Greg Gartrell, a supporting fellow with the California Institute of Public Policy and a technical engineer. independent consultant said.

“This is the problem they had from the very beginning,” he said. “Bigger doesn’t get you more water.”

The supply of water across the plains has long been constrained by species considerations, and that will not change under this plan. What will change is the water quality.

As climate change intensifies, studies show saltwater will penetrate deeper into the Sacramento-San Joaquin estuary, further threatening water purity caused by public facilities in Contra Costa County and South California. It is also expected to provide water supplies to federal contractors, who have refused to financially support the tunnel project, despite the risks they face.

Obegi, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the new planning program makes it clear how Newsom and his California Department of Water Resources officials want to proceed. Throughout the process, he said, the administration has not fully explored other options, such as conservation and higher pricing for environmental benefits.

“The fact that they don’t even analyze any alternatives that include more protective operating rules and leave more water for the environment is really worrying,” he said.

Other analysts say California can take advantage of large – and unusual – scams.

Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow at the California Institute of Public Policy, said that over the past 12 years, “we’ve had three very wet years. And in those years, most of that water flowed through the plains and into the San Francisco Bay.”

“Even if you maximize your ability to take in that amount of water… it doesn’t have much of an impact on the environment,” he said. “There’s still fresh water all the way to the Golden Gate.”

Those arguments have been made before, and California has yet to fully accept them. The state has been working on various blueprints to reroute water in the delta since Governor Pat Brown – Jerry Brown’s father – was governor. Newsom is the latest to come up with a proposal of his own.

Assuming he is re-elected, Newsom will leave office at the end of 2026. In the most hopeful scenario, construction on the scheme won’t begin until two years later – assuming it can get a permit. and exist in lawsuits. California releases plan for single delta water tunnel

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