[env-trinity] Sacbee on Tunnel(s)

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Tue Feb 12 15:10:46 PST 2019

This answers some of the questions from the RTD press release.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom downsizes Delta water project: one tunnel, not two



FEBRUARY 12, 2019 11:29 AM,

UnmuteLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%FullscreenPauseCurrent Time 2:14/Duration 2:24SKip BackSkip ForwardThe California Department of Water Resources is planning to construct twin tunnels to carry Sacramento River water under the Delta. The intakes would be located just south of Sacramento. Here’s what would be involved in their construction. By Nik Wesson
Gov. Gavin Newsom, diving into one of California’s most contentious water issues, said Tuesday he wants to downsize the Delta tunnels project. The Democratic governor also set out to overhaul state water policy by naming a new chair of the state’s water board.

Newsom said he wants the twin-tunnel project — designed to re-engineer the troubled estuarythat serves as the hub of California’s elaborate water-delivery system — reduced to a single tunnel. 

“I do not support the WaterFix as currently configured,” Newsom said during his first State of the State address, using the official term for the Delta project. “Meaning, I do not support the twin tunnels. We can build, however, on the important work that’s already been done. That’s why I do support a single tunnel.”

The announcement likely means the project would require a fresh set of environmental reviews before it can proceed, translating into additional delays for a project that’s been in the planning stage for more than a decade and will take an estimated 15 years to build.


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At the same time, a single tunnel would almost certainly save billions of dollars for a project, which carries a current price tag of $16.7 billion, that’s had trouble achieving full funding.

Newsom also attempted to strike a more centrist tone on water policy in general, saying “we have to get past the old binaries, like farmers versus environmentalists, or North versus South.” He appointed a new chair of the State Water Resources Control board, Joaquin Esquivel, whom the governor said will “help bring this balance.”

A former assistant secretary at the state Natural Resources Agency, Esquivel has been a board member for two years and will replace Felicia Marcus, a former official with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who frustrated farmers and the city San Francisco over plans to reallocate water from farms and cities to prop up struggling fish populations. 

She has chaired the water board since 2013 and her term expired last month.

In addition, Newsom reiterated his support for a drinking water tax that would raise millions for troubled water agencies plagued with unsafe supplies, including many in the San Joaquin Valley. “Solving this crisis will demand sustained funding,” he said. “it will demand political will from each and every one of us.”

The future of the Delta tunnels, formally known as California WaterFix, has been shaky for months. At one point a year ago, former Gov. Jerry Brown suggested reducing WaterFix to a single tunnel as a way of slashing costs. But last April the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California agreed to double its contribution to the project, to $10.8 billion, putting the two-tunnel approach back on track. 

Even so, it wasn’t clear if the two-tunnel approach would survive the transition to Newsom’s administration. Newsom said in early January that he was “concerned about the twin tunnels” but signaled that he still wanted the project to go forward in some fashion. In October, he told the Los Angeles Times that a single tunnel could calm fears that Metropolitan would use the tunnels to siphon more water from Northern California.

Water moves from north to south through a pair of giant pumps — one operated by the State Water Project, the other by the federal government’s Central Valley Project — at the south end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Decades of pumping has degraded the Delta’s eco-system and left Delta smelt and Chinook salmon in danger of extinction. Sometimes the pumps work so hard, they reverse river flows within the Delta and push migrating fish toward predators and the pumps themselves.

Because those fish are protected by the Endangered Species Act, the pumps often have to be throttled back, allowing water to flow to the ocean instead of getting delivered to the two projects’ member agencies in the south state.

WaterFix would alter how water flows through the Delta, by diverting some of the Sacramento River near Courtland and piping it underground to the pumps 40 miles away. That’s designed to ease the “reverse flow” problem, protecting the fish and enabling pumping to proceed with fewer interruptions.

Many environmentalists and local government officials in the Sacramento area, however, have said WaterFix would actually worsen the Delta’s problems. Delta farmers in particular say the project, by siphoning a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow, would leave the estuary much saltier and less conducive to growing crops. 

Those critics are suing to block the project; they’re also trying to prevent state officials from securing crucial permits from the State Water Resources Control Board, which has to sign off on the plan to divert water near Courtland. Environmentalists are also fighting the state’s attempt to get approvals from the Delta Stewardship Council, a state agency that must rule that WaterFix puts environmental protection on an equal footing with the goal of improving water deliveries.

The project faces another huge hurdle: money. WaterFix is to be financed by the south-of-Delta water agencies that would benefit from its construction. But even though WaterFix is a joint federal-state effort, San Joaquin Valley farmers who receive water from the federal Central Valley Project have refused to pledge any dollars, saying the cost is too high. 

Newsom’s announcement left unclear what role the federal government will pay in WaterFix. President Donald Trump’s administration has shown little support for the project and is working to relax environmental rules in order to deliver more water to Valley agriculture, to the outrage of environmentalists.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/delta/article226144155.html#storylink=cpy
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