Delta photo by worldislandsinfo.com via Wikimedia
An interesting editorial in the Sacramento Bee regarding how to allocate water in the Sacramento River and Delta got a strong response from the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
Here’s some of the info from the Bee piece, written jointly by three members of the California’s Water Policy Center:
The sources of contention are many, but three interrelated issues dominate the debate: whether to build two tunnels that divert water from the Sacramento River, how much water to allocate to endangered fish species, and what to do about the 1,100 miles of Delta levees that are essential to the local economy.
All of these issues need to be addressed to reduce unproductive conflict and litigation and resolve our water problems.
Here we outline a potential “grand compromise” for the Delta that meets the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem health prescribed by the 2009 Delta Reform Act. To this end, California should:
? Build one tunnel, not two
The most commonly stated fear about the twin tunnels is that they will increase exports and significantly harm the Delta. Project proponents have failed to convince opponents that proposed regulatory assurances on the tunnels’ use will actually protect water quality and species that are at risk.
Building one tunnel with roughly half the proposed capacity caps the amount of water that can be taken from the Sacramento River and greatly reduces the project’s cost. Even at half of its proposed capacity, the project would significantly improve the reliability and quality of water supply. And by having two locations to draw water from the Delta – a new tunnel plus the existing south Delta pumps – the project creates the necessary flexibility to better manage the environment.
Here’s the Golden Gate Salmon Association’s response to the one-tunnel argument:
GGSA executive director John McManus reacted to the PPIC opinion piece in today’s Sacramento Bee calling for the replacement of the Delta twin tunnels proposal with construction of a single tunnel with the following statements.
“The biggest problem with the old twin tunnels proposal is that instead of developing a reasonable project that would provide salmon protections while allowing export of a scientifically justified amount of water, they designed a project far too big to pass the laugh test.
The existing system of moving water north to south across the Delta is a salmon killer which is why alternatives have been considered. A carefully planned alternative could provide a way to move some water while killing fewer salmon but this would require a project design that makes salmon protections a priority, not an afterthought. GGSA welcome a new approach, and we hope that this leads to a complete rethink of the current twin tunnels project.
For too long, twin tunnel advocates have resisted new ideas. Salmon fishermen and most reasonable Californians believe the only real way to safeguard against over diversion of our rivers is to limit the size of any water intakes and downstream plumbing that moves diverted water. A single tunnel proposal could be a step in that direction.”
Background: There’s no doubt that the existing method of diverting Central Valley river water to pumps in the south Delta pulls baby salmon off their natural migration route to their death. The status quo is a known salmon killer. Can we do better? Theoretically, yes. Was the gargantuan twin tunnels proposal a reasonable answer? Absolutely not.
As long as Sacramento River water is going to be diverted for export to the existing south Delta pumps, then some sort of new conveyance with intakes that can operate while still allowing baby salmon in the Sacramento River to safely pass could be an improvement with conditions.
Conditions would include capping total Delta water exports at a volume pegged to the outcome of the State Water Resources Control Board Delta flows process. In addition part of the solution would include new facilities that would safely shield San Joaquin River salmon from being pulled to their death in the existing pumps. The current forebays that feed water to both the state and federal pumps are predator magnets and baby salmon killers and would need fixing. So too the Delta Cross Channel, a manmade canal feeding Sacramento River water, and baby salmon, to the pumps needs to be closed during key times of the year. Central Valley salmon evolved to transit the Delta riding on east to west flows as Central Valley rivers emptied into the Delta and Bay.
These flows pushed baby salmon from the Delta out to the bay and ocean. Since the massive state and federal water projects were built, these Delta flows have shifted more north to south as the Sacramento River is sucked off its natural course, largely through the Delta Cross Channel, to the pumps. The biggest problem with the existing twin tunnels plans and design is that it calls for intakes, pipes and pumps big enough to drain the entire Sacramento River dry at most times of the year. This simply isn’t credible to reasonable Californians or those charged with protecting fish and wildlife, which is why the twin tunnels are hopelessly bogged down.
The State Water Resources Control Board is currently in the process of determining how much water needs to be left in the rivers and allowed to flow through the Delta and Bay to keep the Delta, Bay, and our native fish and wildlife from dying.
Only after these calculations are complete will we really know how much water in various types of precipitation years will be surplus and available for export. Most reasonable people would agree it makes more sense to design massive, expensive public works plumbing projects only after you know for sure how much water you’re likely to move.
As is, the current huge version of the tunnels don’t pencil out for the water users who would have to pay for them unless water diversions are drastically increased, something most Californians don’t support.
Tunnel proponents argue that while massive, the volume of water they’d trap and export would be limited by controls on the intakes that can be opened or closed as needed. They ask the public to trust them to operate these responsibly. Salmon fishermen, for one, don’t trust them because Central Valley water operations have been operated to the detriment of salmon over and over again.
Finally, the state and south of Delta water users must recognize that communities like Los Angeles, San Diego and Silicon Valley want to be less dependent on the Delta, not more. They’re proving this by investing in recycling facilities, water conservation programs, cleaning up groundwater, capturing storm water, and other projects. We hope this proposal from PPIC sparks some serious discussion within state government and those who would pay for a new water conveyance. There’s no doubt the current system of moving water is harmful to salmon.