Gov. Newsom Releases New Delta Tunnel Plan (Updated)

UPDATE: John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association, which like many organizations with a stake in preserving native fish like Chinook salmon has opposed the tunnels plan, had this to say about the Environmental Impact Statement release on the new plan:

From John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association:

“It makes no sense for the state to waste everyone’s time planning to build a big water tunnel until they first finish the legally required assessment of how much river water needs to be reserved to keep the rivers and Delta alive and wildlife from going extinct.   Only then can we know how much water might be available to move in this new tunnel they want to build.  As is, they’re putting the cart before the horse by pushing these tunnel plans now, especially considering the bad conditions our salmon and other wildlife are in. “

California’s controversial Delta tunnels plan has received plenty of pushback for fear of how the water diversion could devastate already fragile stocks of salmon and other fish species. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom put an end to one such plan first devised by Newsom’s gubernatorial predecessor, Jerry Brown. But now, Newsom has released another tunnel plan for waters within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Here’s more from the San Jose Mercury News:

They and Newsom administration leaders say the tunnel is critical to keep water flowing following a major earthquake, and as climate change disrupts rainfall patterns, would allow the state to move south to reservoirs and groundwater storage banks large amounts of water that would otherwise flow to the ocean in rainy winters south.

“It’s critical that we’re actually able to move the water during the wet periods to store it for the dry periods,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency. “Delta conveyance remains a really important backbone of our modernization.”

Opponents, who in the past have included environmental groups and leaders Delta communities, including Contra Costa County, have called earlier versions of the project a water grab for Southern California and big agribusiness that could take too much fresh water from the Delta and harm already endangered fish like salmon and Delta smelt, along with other wildlife and water quality.

So, it’s a scaled-down project with less water flow than originally planned, but it’s probably not going to quell concerns as whole.

From the Sacramento Bee:

As it stands, restrictions to protect fish often leave the state unable to pump as much during those heavy-flow events, infuriating water districts who see the water they would have once received from the pumps flow out instead to the Pacific Ocean. Environmental restrictions on Delta pumping have tightened in recent decades, starting with a major federal court ruling in 2007 requiring greater protections for fish.

The issue popped up last fall and winter, when heavy storms battered Northern California and produced high river flows in the estuary for short periods. Crowfoot said hardly any of that water was pumped in order to protect the nearly-extinct Delta smelt.

Had the tunnel been in place, state officials say they’d have been able to move about 236,000 acre-feet of water without harming the fish.

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