Reconsidering the Delta Tunnels

The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary supports the largest Pacific Coast fly over stop for migrating waterfowl /Courtesy photo from Restore the Delta
The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary supports the largest Pacific Coast fly over stop for migrating waterfowl /Courtesy photo from Restore the Delta

by Elizabeth Lasensky and Carol Warren

The following letter was submitted for the public record regarding the Delta Tunnels project. The last day to submit public comments about the Tunnels project is October 30, 2015.  More information on the Tunnels can be found at Restore the Delta’s website:

The members of Yolo MoveOn urge Gov. Brown to please reconsider his support of the proposed Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta tunnels. Our members live in Davis, Dixon, Fairfield and Woodland. Each of our communities is closely tied to the delta in multiple ways.

The economic and environmental vitality of the delta is important to us, physically, psychologically, financially and socially. There are 4 million people living in the delta, with a $6 billion recreation and farming economy dependent on delta water quality and quantity, which also is the life source for the San Francisco Bay Estuary.

The proposed twin tunnels will take up to two-thirds of the fresh water from the Sacramento River to send to private Big Agriculture growing water-intensive crops in the desert. It is estimated that the cost of the delta tunnels project will be around $60 billion. Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars has been spent on this plan so far to move water that is already oversubscribed.

The proposed tunnels plan would displace farmers for 14 years and put coastal fishermen out of work. Construction and heavy equipment will be devastating for fish and wildlife. Boron, selenium and other heavy metals from the San Joaquin River will be carried into the delta, compromising the drinking water of Contra Costa County.

Every day this year, water quality standards for the delta have been violated by the state. They have allowed water exporters to pump too much water out of the delta during the drought. Plus, the water exporters have never been forced to pay for the fish screens that they were required to provide at the existing water export pumps near Tracy.

With declining fish populations, such negligence is irresponsible and reprehensible. The area’s salmon already have declined 90 percent in the last three years of drought. Further, habitat restoration that originally was part of the tunnels plan cannot replace the fresh water that salmon, smelt, sturgeon and American shad need to survive.

With this massive, expensive and environmentally damaging plan, Yolo MoveOn members want to know where the actual water for the tunnels will come from. What will that do to the water source area? How long are water exports from Northern California supplies sustainable? Has there been an analysis of the economic and environmental impacts on those regions?

We also would like to know how much water will be available for export through the tunnels in a drought, after prior water rights and public trust needs are met? If there isn’t any, how often will the tunnels be dry? This consideration seems particularly critical when predictions are for more droughts and less snowpack in the future as climate change progresses.

Additionally, we understand that the majority of habitat designated for restoration under California Eco Restore is for prior damage. How can that help with habitat restoration and mitigation for the tunnels?

Lastly, will the state conduct a full cost-benefit analysis of the project that includes the value of freshwater to the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary?

In the absence of answers to these important questions, Yolo MoveOn members strongly urge that the delta tunnels project be permanently shelved and a more comprehensive, equitable and environmentally sensitive water policy be adopted.

— Elizabeth Lasensky and Carol Warren are co-chairs of Yolo MoveOn


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34 thoughts on “Reconsidering the Delta Tunnels”

  1. Anon

    The critical issue for me is why should oversubscribed water be shipped anywhere?  The tunnels would take much needed water for Northern CA and ship it down to Southern CA, essentially to the detriment of Northern CA’s/the delta.  And at a huge cost to CA citizens to boot!  What is Gov. Brown thinking (he’s not)?

        1. Barack Palin

          52% of Californians now want the train scuttled, 43% want to continue the project.

          The other 5% have no opinion, or in other words they’re as clueless as Gov. Brown.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          For the original virgin plan, sure; costs have skyrocketed, and trip times will increase as they chose the wrong and vastly more expensive path – Highway 99.

          When an updated cost estimate came it at approximately $100 the pasta hit the fan, and then the Governor’s office had to backtrack the number to $65 Billion or so. With the cost overruns of the Bay Bridge, imagine what this will really cost. Even in a perfect world, I never see it getting past San Jose – so not the LA to SF promised system.

    1. Frankly

      Just watched Old Mad Moonbeam yesterday in a rant about politics causing his destructive family and business crippling gas tax increase to stall in the state legislature.  He of course exploited the drought and the tragedy of the fires flatly stating that they were caused by man-made climate change.

      Yet he has done nothing to increase water retention/storage in this state.  Instead we are wasting money we don’t have on his legacy bullet train to nowhere.

      California and Vermont are probably the only two states that would give a governor like Jerry Brown high marks.  The guy is a hazard to humanity, but he makes political lefties feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

      He created a cabinet department called GoBiz to promote bringing more business to the state.  He needs to rename it to GoAwayBiz as his policies do exactly that.

      1. Don Shor

        Yet he has done nothing to increase water retention/storage in this state.

        He worked with legislators to get Prop 1 on the ballot and worked hard to get it passed. He pulled the original version from the 2012 ballot because it was “pork-laden” (his words), and worked with the legislature to reduce the costs and the number of projects included. It passed, and water storage projects are going forward. Your statement is patently false.

      2. Jim Frame

        Instead we are wasting money we don’t have on his legacy bullet train to nowhere.


        About 1/3 of that “money we don’t have” is Federal money that we wouldn’t otherwise have.  Another potential $1B per year will come from cap-and-trade dollars that we might not otherwise have.  I see that as a 40% discount on the startup cost.

        Disgusted by missteps and cost inefficiency?  Who isn’t?  But *no* new program of that size *ever* goes without some degree of waste, and we’re never going to get high-speed rail built if we don’t start sometime.  (Someone I know is fond of saying that “perfection is the enemy of the good”; anyone remember who that is?)

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          OK, but do the math.

          Route A has a straight shot up Highway 5 for about 250-300 miles, has an open medium and open land on both side for hundreds of miles. Every 20-40 miles there are a few gas stations and a fast food place. Open farmland, open lots, flat land and the legal right of way in place!

          Route B is longer, more complicated, and follows Highway 99 through many Central Valley towns, including Fresno. Hundreds of businesses lay in the right of way, maybe thousands, and hundreds or thousands of lawsuits await. A few million more people will be closed to the route, but most have lower incomes and will likely rarely use the expensive system. Stopping in these towns will also slow down the whole idea of a “high speed” train.

          The Democrats and Jerry Brown chose Route B, and with it experienced international companies from France and Japan dropped their interest. They pulled out.

          It has the looks of a White Elephant.

  2. DanH

    “With this massive, expensive and environmentally damaging plan, Yolo MoveOn members want to know where the actual water for the tunnels will come from. What will that do to the water source area?” -The current plan is to locate the twin tunnels intake at Freeport. Thus, all of the twin tunnels water will come from the Sacramento River at Freeport. The water is sourced from the entire Sacramento River watershed located upstream from this location, most of which is controlled by existing state and federal water projects (think: Shasta and Folsom Dams).

    “Has there been an analysis of the economic and environmental impacts on those regions?”  -Yes. Governor Schwarzenegger’s Delta Vision plan divided the economic pie among the economic stakeholders. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan accomplished it’s goal of defeating environmental concerns.

    If you want someone to champion ecological protection of the Sacramento/San Joaquin watershed don’t look to Governor Brown for help. He wants to complete the ditch digging legacy started by his father: Governor Edmund (Pat) Brown.

    Keep in mind that for the last century and more California’s state and federal water bureaucracy has been specifically designed to prevent effective regulation of the Sacramento/San Joaquin watershed as an integral system. The result is an ungovernable tangle of water agencies that don’t work together. This is the way the water brokers want it.


    Curiously enough: one of the twin tunnel designs could have improved the Delta environment but it was dismissed several years ago due to cost considerations. This plan envisioned placing several smaller water intakes along the Sacramento River from Freeport south to the Cache Slough confluence. Diversions from these numerous smaller intakes would be integrated with established Delta diversions by a central control facility. Thus, water could be diverted across the entire system with the least environmental impact. Diversions could be altered seasonally as needed to meet the needs of specific species. Of course, this system works only if there is no net increase in water diversion compared to historic diversions.

    The Clifton Court Forebay and Banks pumping plants are not the only facilities that take water from the Delta. Ignore the others at your peril.

    Save the Delta doesn’t impress me a lot. This group serves the needs of existing Delta farming interests.

  3. Frankly

    Governor Brown (“Old Moonbeam”) kowtows to California’s environmental extremists.  Otherwise we would be building more reservoirs and damns to collect and store more runoff water.   It does not rain much in So Cal… but when it does rain it rains a lot.   And the state has built copious runoff infrastructure to send 90% of it to the ocean.  There is de minimis real environmental impact for changing that infrastructure to contain and hold more of that run-off.   But the environmental extremists say no and Old Moonbeam listens to them.

    The population of California has skyrocketed since the last significant water storage project was constructed.  That is the primary reason we are suffering so much in water shortages during this drought.

    1. Don Shor

      Governor Brown (“Old Moonbeam”) kowtows to California’s environmental extremists.

      Environmental groups oppose Brown’s tunnel project for the delta. Again, your statement is false.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    Any project of this magnitude should be weighed against alternatives. It seems like the real interest here of the Governor, beyond winning on an issue he lost on decades ago (settling scores), is to ship more water to SoCal.

    What would be the cost of new, large desalination plants in Southern California? We could provide LA with more water, and save the Delta.

    Yes, we also need lots more water storage.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    FWIW, Governor Brown and his crew were on the verge of proposing another water bond issue for expanding ground water storage, etc., but no traditional water storage. They recently pulled it.

    Do Frankly or anyone else know if the recent water bond we passed requires any new substantial above-ground storage storage, or did we write them a black check to fritter away the money?

    1. Frankly

      I am aware of Prop-1, but out of the $7.5MM bond, only $2.5MM or so is for water storage… but that money just goes to agencies that, along with the other $5MM can just be frittered away.

      Here we are one year after prop-1 passed and what have we heard about water storage projects?  Nada.

      My expectation is that most of this money will go to environmentalist projects.

      1. Don Shor

        In about thirty seconds on Google, you can update yourself about the planning and development status of various water projects in California. “We have heard” a great deal about it because “we” keep ourselves informed about water projects. Bonds passed. Planning is nearly done for Sites. Just google NODOS if that helps.

        1. Don Shor

          What’s amazing about your comment is your apparent inability to give even the slightest credit to Governor Brown for anything. The legislature had passed a water measure for the ballot that was something like $11 billion. Brown urged them to pull it and pushed for one in the $6 – 7 billion range, citing concerns about the fiscal and debt impacts. He got the Democrats to agree to pull the first initiative, then negotiated with the Republican legislators to put together Prop 1 for the ballot. It was passed with bipartisan support. His campaign then provided most of the funding for the ballot measure, and he campaigned for it up and down the state.
          Yet you come up with “this was from a voter-passed proposition… not anything Old Moonbeam passed.”

        2. Frankly

          What’s amazing is that you defend him like you do Obama and cannot seem to find anything you dislike.

          The $7.5 billion was not enough, and the plans will do very little to help increase water storage capacity for CA.  In fact, it appears at this point that the governor’s support of prop-1 was primarily for him to use some that money for environmental mitigation for the delta tunnel project.

          Again… Brown taking care of his activist friends.

          The only question I have ever had about old moonbeam… did he get to Linda Ronstadt to corrupt her worldview, or did she corrupt him?

          1. Don Shor

            I support his water policies.
            The $7.5 billion was a conservative and prudent bond measure. The bonds will increase water storage capacity in California. Some of the money will also be used for environmental projects. That was the point. It was a compromise. That’s why it had bipartisan support, business support, support from ag interests, and support from some — but not all — environmental groups.
            Your comments on this make it very clear that you cannot have a rational discussion about Governor Brown.

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    Frankly, aren’t you happy with the new construction of the Sites Reservoir?

    That is a good Step 1, though I guess you could argue they’re wasting 60% of the money on non-water-storage items.

    I’d like to see more additional options, including the cost of large-scale desalination plants in Southern California, and the larger expansion of Shasta Dam (cost, etc).

    1. hpierce

      TBD… suggest you/we think one step further… ANY MAJOR coastal City should be weaning themselves towards desalination, UNLESS THEIR WATER SOURCE IS “INDIGENOUS” to their natural watershed.  Most big cities are on the coast, so the water is available, it’s just the cost.  I’d be willing to share a proportionate share of the costs (via state taxes), as should the environmentalists who want to destroy Hetch-Hetchy dam/reservoir (serving Bay Area, particularly SF).  The farmers/residents in the Central Valley should be willing to pay a share, too, to loosen up surface water sources for their use, as much of their “natural” water is diverted to coastal cities.

      Am not saying a ‘per capita’ sharing, but for the capital cost, relinquishing their Sierra water rights, I think we all should assist towards a “safe landing”.  And, in return, the water deficient areas (based on watershed) should be paying their fair share, based on demand, of ANY improvements to the existing system.

      Just a thought.


      1. hpierce

        Cambria is a necessity.  They have no choice in order to grant new building permits.   Duh.

        Proposed… is there any reason to think that proposed = commitment?  Plans?  Financing?  Cute graphic Don, but not particularly on point.  Neglects the Bay Area, given my post.

        The islands are a no-brainer.  Total population/demand of San Nicholas, Santa Catalina, Sand City compared to the ‘blue’ and/or unidentified areas, including the Bay Area?  Miniscule.  Gnat compared to a Mammoth.

        Time for NoCal to put up or shut up, IMO.

        We (Californians] have a dependable source of water… the Pacific Ocean.  More so, if you believe climate change will raise ocean surface levels (and that will be ‘fresh water’, diluting the salinity).  Note how many have had to accept the capital/operational costs [those who have gone to desalination].

        Until recently (evolutionarily speaking) humans oriented their civilizations along dependable water supplies.  Not so much in the last 150 years in CA.  LA water wars.  Sam Clemens’ comment “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting”.

        Nice graphic, informative, but not helpful, IMO.



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