Feds Say State's $24.5-Billion Water Tunnel Plan Could Ruin the Delta

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “fully supports” California’s goal of improving the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its water delivery capacity, “appreciates” the effort to prepare a draft environmental report and is “committed” to working with state officials on these issues.

However, the EPA is not a big fan of the draft version of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which it says “may result in violations of Clean Water Act water quality standards and further degrade the ecosystem.”

The EPA wrote in a 43-page letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that building a couple of giant tunnels to divert freshwater from the Sacramento River around the Delta will probably threaten the habitat by increasing its content of salt, chloride, pesticides and other bad stuff.

The BDCP may be a good thing for thirsty Southern Californians and agricultural interests off in the distance, EPA administrator Jared Blumenfeld wrote (pdf) in the review, but local farmers and urban areas relying on water directly from the Delta stand a good chance of being harmed.

The EPA also warned of harm to several endangered fish in the Delta and other native species. In general, the BDCP failed to consider environmental issues upstream and downstream from the Delta, itself, the letter said.  

California has labored over a plan for years to clean up the Delta, rebuild its infrastructure and better control the water that flows into it, a primary source for agriculture, industry and the public. The Peripheral Canal was shot down during Governor Jerry Brown’s first administration 32 years ago.

The newest incarnation is a 50-year plan being sold as a $24.5-billion project that would reshape river flows into the Delta, reconfigure farmland, better protect endangered wildlife and plants, and bring a steadier supply of water south. Around 25 million people rely on the Delta for fresh water and farmers use it to irrigate 3 million acres.

Critics say it ignores the needs of the Delta to satisfy thirsty Californians elsewhere.

As Blumenfeld made clear, the EPA has been displeased for a long time with the direction taken by the BDCP, which began work in 2006:

“Our comments are consistent with those we have made in conversations that have taken place over the last few years among the agencies involved in managing the Delta. Many of our comments have also been made by others, both formally and informally, throughout the process, and we believe that they reflect a developing consensus within the scientific and regulatory communities.”

The EPA was one of a host of federal agencies to express withering comments on an earlier draft environment report in July 2013, calling it “biased,” “insufficient” and “confusing.”    

Opponents of the plan were quick to proclaim the BDCP on “life support” after the EPA letter was made public. “BDCP was doomed from the beginning because it was conceived on the fatal premise that you can restore an estuary hemorrhaging from a lack of flow by depriving it of another 2.5 million acre-feet of flow,” California Sportfishing Protection Alliance Executive Director Bill Jennings said.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Feds Critical of California Twin Tunnel Project (by Scott Smith, Associated Press)

EPA Says California’s Delta Water Tunnel Project Could Violate Federal Law (by Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee)

EPA Says Proposed Delta Water Tunnel Would Harm Environment (by Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times)

EPA Comments put BDCP on Life Support; Prognosis Poor (California Sportfishing Protection Alliance)

Federal Agencies Have Harsh Words for State’s $24.5 Billion Delta Tunnel Plan (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Review of Bay Delta Conservation Plan (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) (pdf)

Leave a comment