Controversial Delta Tunnels Project Takes Another Step

U.S. Government/Wikimedia


The Los Angeles Times reported today that a controversial massive set of tunnels that could negatively affect migrating salmon and other Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta species was given federal approval to progress. You can see the USFWS report on the project and its impact on fish populations here. 

Here’s the Times with more:

Dubbed the California WaterFix by the state, the proposal calls for construction of a new diversion point on the Sacramento River in the north delta, along with two massive underground tunnels that would carry water 35 miles to existing government pumping plants in the south delta.

The powerful pumps now draw entirely from the south delta, causing delta channels to flow backwards and pulling imperiled native fish to their deaths. That triggers endangered species protections that limit pumping, cutting delta deliveries.

By reducing withdrawals from the south delta, the new diversion points would lessen the reverse flows and — backers hope — loosen the pumping restrictions.

In draft reviews, federal biologists were consistently skeptical of the proposal. They warned that taking large amounts of fresh water from the north delta will create a new set of problems for migrating Chinook salmon and the vanishing delta smelt.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that construction and operation of three new river intakes and the twin tunnels would destroy smelt habitat that will become increasingly important as climate change and sea level rise alter delta conditions.

The National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that as far as winter-run Chinook salmon are concerned, the new diversion would change river flow patterns and temperatures for the worse, hurting overall survival of the endangered species.

The salmon advocacy group Golden Gate Salmon Association had this reply to the news:

SAN FRANCISCO – The Golden Gate Salmon Association issued the following statement today in reaction to the release of the biological opinions related to the twin tunnels project. Executive Director John McManus issued the following statement:

“Salmon fishermen and women are opposed to this version of the tunnels because it’s designed so big that it will wipe out salmon, fishing families and fishing communities, and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Delta native wildlife.  The two 40 foot diameter tunnels are big enough to divert the entire Sacramento River at most times of the year.  The river and Delta downstream of the diversion intakes will basically become a stagnant cesspool if this thing is built as planned.  Californians have been denied a vote on whether we support the destruction of the SF Bay Delta, which isn’t democratic, for starters.”

“The reason this project is too big is because they’ve allowed the water users to design it with no balancing to protect the environment.  It’s as if they let the fox design the hen house.  Of course he’s going to design it so he can later clean it out. ” 

“They tell us, don’t worry about the size, we promise we won’t harm the salmon fishery yet look what they did during the drought when push came to shove.  The water users said just trust us but took the water needed by salmon and we lost two-year classes of salmon in 2014 and 2015.”

“We’re told that sea level rise means this thing must be built and yet the project planners haven’t even analyzed conditions they expect to operate the tunnels in beyond the scheduled opening date in 2031.”