Congressman Garamendi Releases Full Comments on Delta Tunnel

Garamendi2
Congressman John Garamendi

Congressman John Garamendi earlier this week released his public comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on the Governor’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its proposed “twin tunnels boondoggle.”

“The twin tunnels project is being unilaterally implemented under authority claimed through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which is ironic given how destructive the tunnels will be to the Delta and how they completely fail to meet the law’s co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration,” said Congressman Garamendi, who represents Davis and much of Yolo County in the US House of Representatives.

The comments were submitted for consideration as NMFS constructs a Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement on the BDCP. In his remarks, Congressman Garamendi argues that the BDCP’s public process failed to account for a full range of alternatives to the Governor’s preferred twin tunnels, and that it does not meet the state’s mandate of co-equal goals, which puts it in violation of state and federal law.

 “If we are going to reduce reliance on the Delta, a conveyance facility is not the first place we should start in developing a reliable water system; it is the last,” Congressman Garamendi argued in the comment.As a result, the BDCP as it stands does not meet the state’s mandated goals and fails to offer any alternatives that even come close to meeting them. The only thing the BDCP does is to provide a conveyance facility that will potentially harm the Delta more than help it while providing no reliable water supply.”

Congressman Garamendi’s public comment urges lawmakers to examine the full range of options to address California’s long term water needs, including Congressman Garamendi’s Water Plan for All of California.

“If the BDCP were truly committed to achieving the state’s co-equal goals, it would analyze a variety of options to help meet them.  Just as the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan, the Department of Water Resources’ California Water Action Plan, Congressman John Garamendi’s Water Plan for All of California, and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Portfolio-Based BDCP Conceptual Alternative consider a wide range of actions that could be taken to provide water reliability, so should the BDCP consider actions beyond a new pumping facility and large underground tunnels,” he continued in the comment.

He would add, “Each of the plans listed above discuss water conservation, recycling or desalination, and the creation of more storage as the means to achieving a reliable water supply. These elements are vital to our water future and by leaving them out of the BDCP’s scope and planning, we are failing to seek out the most economically and environmental option for our state and the Delta.”

 Congressman Garamendi’s full public comment:

BDCP Comments prepared by Congressman John Garamendi

The range of alternatives evaluated for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) violate federal and state law and fail to adequately capture the variety of options that exist to meet the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration in the Delta.  Fifteen different alternatives, all largely similar, are provided through the course of thousands of pages of documents, but none of them consider different solutions to addressing California’s water needs.  While experts will be able to point out a myriad of other short-comings to the BDCP, I will focus my comments on the need for a more diverse range of alternatives to be considered and what the alternatives should include.

Federal Law

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a range of alternatives that would meet the project’s purpose and need must be evaluated.  The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has provided guidance on what this “range of alternatives” means as Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) are developed under NEPA:

The phrase “range of alternatives” refers to the alternatives discussed in environmental documents.  It includes all reasonable alternatives, which must be rigorously explored and objectively evaluated….  Section 1502.14 requires the EIS to examine all reasonable alternatives to the proposal.  In determining the scope of alternatives, the emphasis is on what is “reasonable” rather than on whether the proponent or applicant likes or is itself capable of carrying out a particular alternative.  Reasonable alternatives include those that are practical or feasible from the technical and economic standpoint and using common sense, rather than simply desirable from the standpoint of the applicant.  Counsel on Environmental Quality, Guidance document “NEPA Forty Most Asked Questions”

This guidance is clear that alternatives must represent a wide range of options that can be rigorously explored and objectively evaluated.  The draft EIS fails to meet this requirement in several ways.  First, it fails to provide a wide range of options that meet the purpose and need of the proposed action.  The stated planning goals for the BDCP are to restore ecological functions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and improve water supply reliability in the state of California.  Alternatives to meet these needs should include not only a conveyance facility, but also other actions and water projects that could be pursued to achieve water reliability.  The alternatives in the draft EIS fall drastically short in this regard.  Each of the fifteen alternatives includes the same two elements: a conveyance facility and habitat restoration.  There is no discussion of water conservation measures or recycling projects or increasing storage capacity, all of which could be used to support water reliability.

Next, the draft EIS fails to rigorously explore the alternatives because the alternatives are inadequate.  Building massive tunnels through the Delta is not the only option for creating water reliability, and there are plenty of other ideas out there for how reliability could be achieved.  If the range of alternatives identified do not include all options that could reasonably meet the purpose and need for the BDCP, then a rigorous review is impossible to achieve.

Finally, reasonable alternatives are those that are practical and feasible from a technical and economic standpoint, not just those that are desirable for the applicant.  Proponents of the BDCP have one goal in mind – building tunnels to move water from the North to the South.  These blinders have limited the scope of this project and the scope of alternatives put forth for analysis.   For these reasons, this EIS violates federal law and fails to provide the required components for an EIS under NEPA.

State Law

The current draft EIS/EIR also violates state laws governing the development of the project.  First, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) applies to state projects which can be defined as “an activity undertaken by a public agency or a private activity which must receive some discretionary approval from a government agency which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect change in the environment.”  Since building tunnels 40-feet wide and 40-feet long through the Delta will directly cause physical change, the state has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to comply with CEQA.  However, draft EIRs must provide feasible alternatives or mitigation measures that could substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of the proposed project and this is where the state has failed.  As previously mentioned, the alternatives offered in the draft EIR are not actual alternatives to the proposed project, they merely offer different sizes of conveyance systems without looking at alternatives that would actually lessen the environmental impact.  Building tunnels, no matter what size, will have a major environmental impact.  To comply with CEQA, the project proponents need to offer alternatives that would provide a reliable water supply through a variety of methods that extend beyond building a new conveyance system.

Second, in 2009, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act became state law and mandated coequal goals for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  These two goals are to provide a more reliable water supply for California and to protect, restore and enhance the Delta ecosystem.  The Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) was created through the legislation and charged with the mission of developing and implementing a Delta Plan to achieve these goals.  Rather than allowing the Delta Stewardship Council to complete it work in developing a Delta Plan, a group of independent stakeholders rushed ahead with the BDCP in an effort to find an easier way to export water from the Delta to the South under the guise of meeting the coequal goals.  However, this narrow focus clearly fails to comply with the state law which states:

Providing a more reliable water supply for the state involves implementation of water use efficiency and conservation projects, wastewater reclamation projects, desalination, and new improved infrastructure, including water storage and Delta conveyance facilities.  (CA Water Code, Division 35, Section 85004(b))

A conveyance system is only one element to achieving water reliability, and any plan that is put into place should encompass the entire list above.  Some may argue that this is just the first step to achieving reliability, but that is the wrong approach.  The Delta Reform Act goes on to discuss the need to reduce reliance on the Delta:

The policy of the State of California is to reduce reliance on the Delta in meeting California’s future water supply needs through a statewide strategy of investing in improved regional supplies, conservation, and water use efficiency. Each region that depends on water from the Delta watershed shall improve its regional self-reliance for water through investment in water use efficiency, water recycling, advanced water technologies, local and regional water supply projects, and improved regional coordination of local and regional water supply efforts” (CA Water Code, Division 35, Section  85021)

If we are going to reduce reliance on the Delta, a conveyance facility is not the first place we should start in developing a reliable water system, it is the last.

As a result, the BDCP as it stands does not meet the state’s mandated goals and fails to offer any alternatives that even come close to meeting them.  The only thing the BDCP does is to provide a conveyance facility that will potentially harm the Delta more than help it while providing no reliable water supply.

If the BDCP were truly committed to achieving the state’s coequal goals, it would analyze a variety of options to help meet them.  Just as the DSC’s Delta Plan, the Department of Water Resources’ California Water Action Plan, Congressman John Garamendi’s Water Plan for All of California, and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Portfolio-Based BDCP Conceptual Alternative consider a wide range of actions that could be taken to provide water reliability, so should the BDCP consider actions beyond a new pumping facility and large underground tunnels.  Each of the plans listed above discuss water conservation, recycling or desalination, and the creation of more storage as the means to achieving a reliable water supply.  These elements are vital to our water future and by leaving them out of the BDCP’s scope and planning, we are failing seek out the most economical and environmental option for our state and the Delta.

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8 Comments

  1. TrueBlueDevil

    This is a lot to swallow, and apparently a lot to swallow for the well-read Davis Vanguard crowd, too.

    My gut reaction on this topic, of which I admittedly am not an expert, was that Governor Brown’s proposal made no sense. The only thing I can think is that he wants to make sure that Southern California gets water. Am I right?

    Meanwhile, there is no additional water storage, which would help citizens, farms, water quality and fisheries / salmon.

    I also don’t see a further strengthening of the delta, but maybe this is just too much information.

    Is the governor moving forward on his tunnels to nowhere?

  2. Don Shor

    This proposal is really the culimination of a process that’s been underway for a couple of decades. It was the CalFed process in the 1990’s, then the Delta Stewardship Council was established.
    The problem is that the pumping of water at Tracy causes saline water to back up into the Delta, and damages wildlife and habitat. The water flows south to farmers in the Valley and Southern California water agencies, and it also needs to flow through the Delta to keep it healthy.
    The pumps have been ‘regulated’ to date by federal lawsuits. Federal judges are making rulings based on the harm done to the fisheries, to delta community water supplies, etc. That is not a way to manage water supplies or environmental resources.
    In the 1990’s all of the stakeholders came to the table in the CalFed process: ag interests, Delta water agencies, Southern California water agencies, environmental groups, federal and state agencies. They hammered out a process of guaranteeing flows, upgrading the infrastructure, establishing Delta water quality standards (hence our surface water project, due to stricter limits on our outflow quality), setting limits based on biological data, etc. Then the Council was created to manage this massive project, which includes huge amounts of funding for habitat restoration, fisheries, etc. Some fisheries experts, including local UCD luminaries, agree with this plan. Some environmental groups are on board; others aren’t.
    Part of that overall plan is building these tunnels to control and guarantee the flow based on the standards that are, in principle, science-based. The water flowing through the Delta is committed to any number of downstream users, all of whom have paid over many years for the state water project, and who will continue to pay for the water they receive.
    Water that passes through the Delta provides a huge percentage of the water supply to much of the state of California. To put it bluntly, contrary to what many in the Delta may think: the Delta isn’t the source of the state’s water. The source is the snow melt in the Sierra, and the rivers. The Delta is the plumbing.
    This project doesn’t increase water supply; that is not the goal. It doesn’t increase the amount of water flowing to Southern California. It doesn’t specifically reduce the water flowing through the Delta – in principle, it bases those amounts on the available supply and the standards that have been set by the EPA and fisheries departments necessary to preserve water quality and healthy ecosystems.
    What it will do is disrupt life for Delta residents for several years as the tunnels are built. It’s a huge construction project. Opposition in the Delta is nearly unanimous, and Congressman Garamendi represents that district. In fact, that’s where he’s from. So I don’t find his position surprising, nor that of our local reps who are also all opposed to this.
    But Delta interests are just one stakeholder at the table. And they are probably the least numerous and least powerful among the stakeholders. It’s been a delicate process of getting all those groups to agree on a way forward. Unfortunately, local political leaders have decided to argue from the sidelines. But it would probable be political suicide for them to do otherwise.
    Another goal is making the water supply safer from emergency: a major earthquake could disrupt water conveyance to a very large part of the state for quite awhile. I pretty much guarantee that if that happens, the construction of the tunnels will begin immediately.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      All politics are local.

      Is it true that this plan has little or no additional water storage? It would also be nice to hear just how much of the water goes to southern California residences, businesses, and how much goes to thirsty cotton? (Dunning brought this up recently.)

      Does this also shore up the levees, which we are told might be a top-10 or top-50 potential US disaster, or is that another unplanned-for public-works project waiting to fail?

      I read our water storage system was designed for 20 million people. Given we are double that, and given that the Sacramento River carries more water than the Colorado River, storing more water seems like a no brainer.

      1. Don Shor

        This is not water storage. If you want water storage, you need to build reservoirs or increase the size of existing reservoirs. There are two reservoir projects that are pretty far along in the planning stages:

        Sites Reservoir near Maxwell (http://www.water.ca.gov/storage/docs/NODOS%20Project%20Docs/Sites_FAQ.pdf)
        Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin river (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperance_Flat_Dam)

        The Delta project would not cause additional water to flow to Southern California, it would enable the water managers to control the flow more effectively and in a manner that is considered better for the environment of the Delta overall.

        I don’t know why Dunning or others brought up cotton. It’s a water-intensive crop, but the growing region he was talking about (Colusa) is directly along the Sacramento River and those farmers have plenty of water rights. And, usually, plenty of water.

        There are several components to the Delta plan. Work on the levees, which has been fragmented among different agencies and private landowners, is one of the parts. “Restoring” Delta wildlife habitat is another (I use the term loosely, because nobody is ever going to “restore” the Delta to the malarial swamp that it was in the 19th Century, before it was drained and leveed and farmed). That part has some controversy, since it takes some farmland out of production in the Yolo Bypass — the Yolo Supervisors have expressed their concern about that aspect, due to lost farming revenues.

        The threat to the health of the Delta is encroaching salinity from water backing up due to pumping, increasing salinity and pollution from upstream cities and farms, and collapse of the levee system.

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