Federal Agencies Have Harsh Words for State’s $24.5 Billion Delta Tunnel Plan

Monday, July 22, 2013
(photo: Randall Benton, Sacramento Bee)

The proposed state plan that outlined a framework for the $24.5 billion Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta project was greeted upon its release in May with a flurry of lawsuits from every direction. They were not unexpected.

It is harder to say whether the withering comments from four federal agencies last week on the project’s draft environment impact report (EIR) were as anticipated. The Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service took turns, in a 44-page report, blasting the EIR produced for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) as “biased,” “insufficient” and “confusing.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the only member of the group that is not a designated lead agency in the project, had eight specific criticisms but expressed them in a less harsh fashion.   

An introductory statement accompanying the federal report offers the hope that the agency comments will be “helpful and underscore the good collaboration that exists in the complex planning process.” Los Angeles Times reporter Bettina Boxall thinks the federal criticism will make it hard for the state to meet its own October deadline for releasing the draft for public comment, “an important step in moving the project forward.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s administration wants to build two 35-mile tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River to pumps and aqueducts for shipment south for farming, industrial and personal use. The proposal addresses restoration of more than 100,000 acres of floodplains and tidal marshes, improving water quality, rebuilding levees, and protecting endangered species and threatened fisheries—efforts that environmentalists and local Delta residents say fall far short.

The federal agencies seem to agree with the critics.

The Bureau of Reclamation said the “language and content” in the draft EIR, which is supposed to be an unbiased document from California’s Department of Water Resources and its environmental consultants, “are advocating for the project.” The report is “vague” and “identification of adverse and beneficial impacts is very subjective and appears to be based on a misreading of NEPA [National Environmental Police Act] regulations.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service called the EIR “insufficient.” For instance, “Some sections and analyses do not state whether or not an impact is adverse or significant.” The service listed 10 general troublesome aspects of the report and promised to be back with more specifics soon.

The Fish and Wildlife Service found “factual and analytical errors” in a document it thought “hard to read,” as well as the biased advocacy noted by the other agencies.

Comments from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be available in the coming days.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Environmental Documents for Proposed Delta Project Criticized (by Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times)

Federal Reports Confirm Delta Tunnel Plan Not Based on Sound Science (by Dan Backer, Daily Kos)

Federal Agency Comments (Bay Delta Conservation Plan)

Release of Delta Plan Triggers Flood of Lawsuits (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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