Restore The Delta On Tunnel EIR: “Embarrassing” Lack Of Climate Change Planning

After a summer salvo from California Gov. Gavin Newsom rekindled plans for the controversial Delta Tunnel project that many in the conservation and environmental circles fear will further deplete the populations of native salmon, smelt and other species in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River watersheds.

Restore the Delta released its opinions on the revamped proposals submitted with an Environmental Impact Stadium back in July. You can find a detailed breakdown in the Twitter thread posted above. Click here for the whole string of tweets.

Restore the Delta also released the following press release with more analysis/reaction:

Restore the Delta Files Comments on Delta Conveyance DEIR;  Lack of climate planning “embarrassing” for DWR

Stockton, CA – Today, Restore the Delta submitted detailed comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Delta Conveyance Project (Delta Tunnel) to the California Department of Water Resources. 

Read the comment letter and attachments by Restore the Delta. 

The Delta Conveyance Project (Delta Tunnel)
The proposed project would construct new water intake facilities on the Sacramento River in the north Delta to fill a single tunnel with diverted freshwater flows. That water would be shipped to large farming operations and water wholesalers south of the Delta. The Delta Conveyance project would divert up to 6,000 cubic feet of water per second. The project is estimated to cost between $16-40 billion and won’t be completed until at least 2040.

Tim Stroshane, Policy Analyst, Restore the Delta:
“The California Department of Water Resources should be embarrassed by the lack of climate change planning in the DEIR for the proposed Delta Tunnel. The DEIR was out of date for climate change science when it was released in July 2022. If completed in 2040 it will be obsolete then. Meanwhile, California will have spent big money on a project the state will be unable to use as Delta water levels rise. Instead, we should invest in the resilience of Delta environmental justice communities and the rest of the state for flood and water supplies, reducing the big projects’ reliance on the Delta for future water needs, using water use efficiency and water recycling, and increasing local and regional water supply self-sufficiency to ward off drought and megafloods.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director, Restore the Delta:
“DWR has learned nothing since California WaterFix. Their sales pitch, that the tunnel is a climate project, is built on incomplete data and faulty analysis. They have continued their pattern of erasing how the project will impact Delta urban environmental justice communities. And they are minimizing how construction will ruin small Delta farming towns, and the natural resources essential to the cultural and spiritual practices of historic Delta tribes. The tunnel is a failed idea that nobody supports, except for the Department of Water Resources.”

Highlights from the Comments

Environmental impact of Tunnel:
“Reviewing the Executive Summary, we count 17 significant and unavoidable impacts of the proposed Tunnel project on the environment. Among these impacts will be loss of prime agricultural farmland, loss of local non-tribal cultural resources, transportation and air quality impacts, and painful loss of tribal cultural resources. There are other impacts omitted, belittled, or greenwashed by the Tunnel DEIR.”

Flow and salinity impacts when Tunnel in operation:
“The Tunnel Project has region-scale impacts on the Delta, should it be built. The Tunnel DEIR acknowledges that a major operational impact will be, reducing Sacramento River flows (and hence flows to its distributaries in north and central Delta channels) and reducing the estuary’s ability to repel tidal salt waters which are ever-present (see Attachment 9 to this letter). Such operational impacts will have economic and ecological impact on the Delta region, and a Community Benefits Program must be developed to mitigate the economic and ecological effects of Tunnel operations on Delta communities, especially environmental justice communities.”

Failure to consider alternatives:

“DWR in particular is hide-bound in its loyalty to a Delta conveyance approach eclipsed by the emerging and growing effects of extreme heat and extreme storms.

“A huge failure of imagination by DWR is on display in this DEIR. Each of these alternatives is vulnerable to the slings and arrows of expected climate change effects, which we will go into further below when commenting on project modeling methods and results. But what we see displayed in the Tunnel DEIR is a complete failure of state water officials to imagine alternative approaches these last few years since the demise of California WaterFix in early 2019.”

Faulty consideration of Delta Environmental Justice impacts:
“We are deeply disappointed that DWR resorted to ignoring its ‘Your Delta, Your Voice’ Survey as a basis for informing how and what kind of environmental, environmental justice, and community impacts the Delta Tunnel Project would impose on the Delta EJ community both of the direct Legal Delta and of the Delta Region as a whole. It is plainly obvious that 1) the Legal Delta as well as the Delta Region are bona fide environmental justice communities, with relatively small proportions of white and wealthy populations; 2) Delta residents AND Delta region community members rely substantially on the Delta directly, and the north Delta in particular, for subsistence fishing, and it is thus an environmental impact to have both fishing spots taken away from anglers and fish removed from the vicinity for North Delta Intakes construction activities; and 3) in the operational phase, lost flows in the Delta will increase salinity in the Delta as it reduces flows in north and central Delta channels, and thereby contributing to the spread of harmful algal blooms which will disproportionately injure Delta people who rely on fishing and broad outdoor activities to enjoy the Delta. In sum, the Delta Tunnel Project will harm such beneficial users of water as fish, outdoor water-contact recreation, and environmental justice communities.”

About Restore the Delta
Restore the Delta (RTD) is a grassroots campaign of residents and organizations committed to restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta so that fisheries, communities, and family farming can thrive there together again; so that water quality is protected for all communities, particularly environmental justice communities; and so that Delta environmental justice communities are protected from flood and drought impacts resulting from climate change while gaining improved public access to clean waterways. Ultimately our goal is to connect communities to our area rivers and to empower communities to become the guardians of the estuary through participation in government planning and waterway monitoring. RTD advocates for local Delta stakeholders to ensure that they have a direct impact on water management decisions affecting the well-being of their communities, and water sustainability policies for all Californians.ICYMI 12/10/22:
Delta Tunnel Meeting, Greenhouse Gaslighting, HABs in 2022