Pint-Sized Tunnel Plan

Pint-Sized Tunnel Plan

Environmental Suggestion To Drastically Shrink Delta Conveyance Facility Size Sparks Retorts

When the newest concept for tunneling to convey water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta was being hatched, the project’s scope and capacity were enormous – capable of moving about 15,000 cubic feet per second from south of Sacramento to the export pumping plants northwest of Tracy.
Then the proposal, while still large and impressive, was scaled down to two 35-mile-long tunnels carrying a total of 9,000 c.f.s. to reduce costs and ease opposition. Governor Brown is backing this plan as a key element in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to resolve the Delta’s water supply, infrastructure and environmental problems.


Now a coalition of environmental and conservation groups, mostly in the Bay Area, is proposing to slash the concept to just 3,000 c.f.s. with various local supply projects. It is a concept generating lots of push back from project proponents who point out the environmental advocates’ plan would be:

  • A third the size of what the Governor is proposing and only 20% of the originally-considered capacity.
  • Smaller than the lesser of the two Delta water export canals it would serve, the Central Valley Project’s Delta-Mendota Canal, which has a capacity of 4,600 c.f.s., and nearly insignificant as a potential supplier for the much larger California Aqueduct with its capacity of 13,100 c.f.s.
  • Far short of meeting needs for adequate and reliable water supplies for 26 million Californians and well over 3 million acres of irrigated farmland.

“All we’ve done is to compare the incremental benefits of a larger facility with a larger investment in local resources like recycling efficiency,” Barry Nelson of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Los Angeles Times. The Bay Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Planning and Conservation League, the Contra Costa Council and Environmental Entrepreneurs are backing the smaller project, as are some water agencies in San Diego County and the Bay Area.


The concept is not new. Planners have looked at alternatives including all sizes and shapes before centering on the plan favored by the Brown administration.
“It’s a little late in the game to reintroduce concepts that have already been explored,” said Bob Muir, a Metropolitan Water District of Southern California spokesman.
From the Friant Division’s perspective, the new environmental proposal is a head-scratcher and comes at a time when the Friant Water Authority and its member agencies are attempting to determine if Friant would benefit from any sized conveyance. That’s important because the Delta conveyance project is currently intended to be financed under a “beneficiary pays” approach.
“Our board has always been supportive of the BDCP effort because Delta solutions must be found but we continue to be concerned over how the cost of these facilities might be allocated to CVP water contractors, including the Friant Division,” said Ronald D. Jacobsma, FWA General Manager.
“We don’t see how our users would benefit from the current plans,” he added, noting that Delta water provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors in exchange for San Joaquin River water diverted into the Friant-Kern and Madera canals already has the highest priority.


Meanwhile, representatives of business, labor, water and agricultural interests have called on state and federal officials to “stay the course” in its Delta planning.
“The alternative proposal would depart from the co-equal goals (improving water supplies and the Delta environment) by leaving California without a water supply solution for the residents and industries in several regions of the state,” the coalition said in a letter to officials. “The proposal would provide no relief for farm workers and farmers in the Central Valley. Even more concerning is the fact that the proposal would leave California unprotected from the impacts of a major seismic event or the failure of the system due to major climate events.”
The letter notes that water agencies already are investing in conservation and local supply development called for under the environmentalists’ new concept, and that while these efforts are essential, they “in no way satisfy the need for adequate and reliable Delta supplies today.”

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