Help protect the largest fresh water estuary on the West Coast from the Twin Tunnels.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
The incredibly diverse Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the largest fresh-water estuary on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. With over a thousand miles of waterways and 50 plus islands, the Delta is both a natural wonder and boating paradise. The Delta plays host to over 500 plant and animal species as well as a half-a billion dollars in agricultural production and ten-of-millions more in tourism and recreation. The Delta is home to many species of fish, including several salmon species, striped bass, steelhead trout, American shad and sturgeon. It is estimated that almost two-thirds of California’s salmon pass through the Delta on their way upstream to spawn.
Over 6 million Californian’s live within the counties that make up or adjoin the Delta and it is a world renowned fishing and recreational boating destination. Sport fishing, windsurfing, kayaking, and houseboat camping are some of the most popular recreational pastimes in the Delta enjoyed by millions each year.
Each winter and spring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta plays host to a wonder of nature as ten-of-millions of waterfowl winter-over or pass through the Delta on their way to winter-feeding grounds. A survey in 2012 recorded a spring duck population of 48.6 million and each winter Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes, Canada and Snow Geese, and many duck species fill the waterways and skies. These spectacular gatherings lead to local viewing festivals and significant boosts to local economies form bird-watching tourism.
The Threat: Delta Twin Tunnels/California Water Fix
The heart of the proposal a $25 billion dollar plan to build two 7,500 cfs (cubic feet of water per second) 35-mile long twin tunnels to siphon water away from the Sacramento River and San Joaquin Bay Delta to send to Southern California. Most, if not all of the previous environmental restoration was stripped out of the current plan. The $25 billion project would have devastating impacts on the region’s farming and fishing and put several endangered species at increased risk of extinction.
While the Plan ostensibly is intended to recover endangered species in the Delta, it is mostly focused on construction of giant tunnels that will primarily carry subsidized irrigation water under the Delta to corporate agricultural operations in the Western San Joaquin Valley and in Southern California. If approved, the plan would provide the basis for a 50-year permit to cover the pumping of the State Water Project (SWP), operated by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) in coordination with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (BOR’s) Central Valley Project (CVP). The current version of the BDCP proposes construction of three new intakes on a stretch of the Sacramento River near Hood. Twin tunnels at least 40 feet wide and 150 feet deep would convey water to the existing pumping plants in the south Delta near Tracy.
In August 2014, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) commented that the plan could violate the Clean Water Act and harm endangered fish species. In addition, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said they would not issue permits for the plan because the state could not prove that the habitat restoration plans would be effective in helping the salmon, sturgeon, or delta smelt. As a result, the Brown administration separated the habitat restoration plan and the water supply improvement plan with the new plan called the “California Water Fix.” Before 2015, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan had two coequal goals of habitat restoration and water supply improvement. In effect, the guarantee to restore the Delta’s environment has been dropped.
Key Problems with the Tunnels Plan
A key issue regarding the Plan is its failure to determine how much water the Delta ecosystem needs and to commit to meet those needs first before moving forward with a new canal that could further drain the estuary of much needed fresh water. If the current schedule is maintained, the BDCP will be approved long before the State Water Resources Control Board adopts water quality criteria and flow standards for the Delta and the rivers that feed it. This backwards sequence of approvals ensures that, if approved, the BDCP will not include adequate information about the requisite amount of flows needed by endangered fish species.
The tunnels are directly tied to the construction of new or expanded surface storage dams (inefficient and expensive) and reservoirs in California. In particular, the tunnels may be a catalyst to the approval of the 18-foot raise of the Shasta Dam and the Sites Offstream Reservoir Project in the Sacramento Valley, and build the Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River. Friends of the River has criticized these projects as too expensive and relatively ineffective in producing new water supplies. Reasonable investments in water conservation, recycling and reclamation, and environmentally beneficial groundwater management will produce far more water at a fraction of the cost of new and expanded dams.
The plan contains regulatory assurances for water contractors, which shields them from any liability if fish populations start to crash, as we suspect they will. Without adequate mitigation, these already declining populations will likely be decimated. Even organizations that have endorsed the idea of building tunnels or canals under the Delta have raised sharp criticism of the current plan and proposed fix, noting, among other things, that the assumed operation cannot be reconciled with upstream uses.
Whether legislators or California voters will be willing to take on yet another multi-billion boondoggle project remains to be seen. Delta area legislators are proposing a bill that would require a public vote before the plan could move forward…but the governor would have to sign the measure to potentially stop a project he currently supports.
How you can help the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
FOR is actively working to oppose this threat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. We are working with a wide-ranging group of citizens and organizations to oppose the Delta Twin Tunnels, researching legal strategies, and building grassroots support for protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and its magnificent world-class wetlands.