[env-trinity] Newsom officially kills twin Delta tunnels plan
tstokely at att.net
Fri May 3 11:56:04 PDT 2019
Newsom officially kills twin Delta tunnels plan
Governor instead seeks plan for a single pipe to deliver water to Southern California
The Clifton Court Forebay staging area south of Discovery Bay, Calif., in a 2006 photo. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his plans to scale back the twin tunnels project through the Delta in his State of the State address Tuesday. (Bay Area News Group Archives)By BY RYAN SABALOW AND DALE KASLER SACRAMENTO BEE | PUBLISHED: May 2, 2019 at 2:38 pm | UPDATED: May 2, 2019 at 3:05 pm
By Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow | Sacramento Bee
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration officially pulled the plug Thursday on the twin Delta tunnels, fullfilling Newsom’s pledge to downsize the project to a single pipe as he attempts to chart a new course for California’s troubled water-delivery system.
The Department of Water Resources halted the planning on the twin tunnels by withdrawing its application to a sister agency, the State Water Resources Control Board, for permission to build the massive project from a starting point on the Sacramento River near Courtland. The state also scrapped documents declaring that the twin tunnels plan complied with California’s environmental laws.
In the short run, the decision means more delay for a project that’s been on the drawing board for more than a decade. Karla Nemeth, director of the Department of Water Resources, said it could take up to three years to rework the environmental documents and other permits. But by downsizing and simplifying the project, she said the state hopes it can speed up the “overall delivery schedule” for the project.
Nemeth said the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the state’s partner in the Delta project, is also withdrawing its applications and environmental permits.
Officials said they will soon file a new application, as well as new environmental reviews, to support their plan for a single tunnel.
Nemeth argued that a downsized project could be “more responsive to the naysayers” who believe WaterFix will harm the Delta instead of helping it. But she acknowledged, “I don’t expect that all parties will be supportive.”
Opponents of the WaterFix plan, who have been fighting the project in court, have said they’re willing to take a fresh look at plans for a single tunnel. Downsizing also would save about $5 billion, bringing project costs down to about $11 billion. Southern California water agencies that rely on shipments from the Delta will foot the bill.
Downsizing the project is in line with Newsom’s effort to push a more centrist approach on water issues than Brown, trying to ease decades of conflict over the state’s precious supplies. Earlier this week he signed an executive order directing Natural Resources and other agencies to develop a comprehensive “water resilience portfolio” in an effort to unite warring factions such as environmentalists and farmers.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the hub of the state’s water network. Giant pumps at the south end of the estuary, near Tracy, deliver supplies from Northern California to irrigation districts and municipalities that belong to the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.
Decades of pumping have harmed the Delta’s eco-system and imperiled several fish species, including the smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon, both of which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The pumps are so strong that they sometimes reverse river flows within the Delta and push migrating fish toward predators or the pumps themselves. As a result, often the pumps have to be throttled back, allowing the river water to follow its natural course to the ocean — to the frustration of the south state water agencies counting on the deliveries.
The Delta project — one tunnel or two — has been touted as a way of correcting the problem. By routing a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow underground and delivering it directly to the pumps, the state’s engineers say the “reverse flow” issue would be eased, enabling the pumps to operate more reliably while doing less harm to the fish.
WaterFix has been enormously controversial, though. Environmentalists and Delta farmers say the project, by diverting a portion of the river, would harm native fish and leave the estuary too salty for agriculture; they’ve also branded it a south-state “water grab.”
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