Listening to the video tape of the March 20th BDCP Public meeting, I heard the comment from a farmer who had found out 4 days prior that the state planned to turn his farm into a “muck” farm. His comments followed a statement by Jerry Meral, Deputy Resources Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency who chairs the BDCP public meetings, who claimed that they “really” weren’t taking that much farmland out of production for habitat restoration. That the main habitat restoration was north, much near the Yolo Bypass, and the impact was only about $1 million to ag.
But Delta Farmer Daniel Wilson on Andrus Island countered that claim. “I have two muck sites on my land probably destroying $6 million a year – my fruit packing facility, orchard, and home once occupied by a renowned artist.” (Their beautiful house is shown below.)
He also added, “Another point, you are probably going to distroy the town of Walnut Grove because you’re putting a 3.5 million yard leaching plant upwind of the town.” (A town that is listed in the Delta Plan as one of the Delta “Legacy” towns to be preserved and protected.)
Construction and “Muck”
This caused me to wonder what this “Muck” was all about (BDCP term, not ours). What I discovered was very distressing. The route of the Delta Tunnels is right through the heart of the Delta. During construction, they are building 50×300 foot docks – definitely impacting boat transit and any water skiing activity. The will be bringing in transmission lines and lights and pile drivers.
One construction site is on Bacon Island right next to the largest, most popular anchorage in the Delta – Mildred Island. Construction, night lights and pile driving all night all summer – from June 1 to October 31 for who knows how many years. The nighttime lights and pile driving is likely to be easily heard from the smaller but also popular Horseshoe anchorage on Connection Slough. I didn’t get an answer to the question if boating will be affected. But google earth shows prime farmland on Bacon Island. It sounds like in addition to flooding Islands for habitat restoration projects, farms will be disrupted for years during construction.
After construction, they are leaving piles of muck (dirt mixed with foaming agents, chemicals and polymers), hundreds of acres destroyed along this path. In total, approximately 1,600 acres will be covered by piles of smelly muck.
This muck is so bad they need to build a retaining dike around them to “ensure containment” and a complicated system to leach out the toxins. They store the muck in an impervious liner to be sure it doesn’t get into the ground water. I’ve been told that this type of removal and treatment normally requires removing the substance far away from cities and to be professional managed, not just left here and there throughout our Delta, on Delta farms, homes and operation facilities. Will farmers even be able to still farm those lands that remain with this big pile of mess in the middle, roads to it, 60 foot wide shafts down to the pipeline 100 feet below? The Bacon Island muck pile is just upwind of the Mildred Island Anchorage, near Horseshoe Anchorage and not far from Tinsley Island. These waterways are the primary sloughs for weekend boaters, fisherman and water skiiers. I’ve heard this kind of muck dump is like living next to sewage dump.
Smelly Muck next to Discovery Bay
In addition to the smelly site near Walnut Grove, one of the largest sites is about a mile east of Discovery Bay, on Victoria Island farmland, for the entire length of the city! Right in our own back yard. A smelly wastage dump right next to the most populated Delta boating community.
And what if the muck ponds leak? Will toxins get into the ground water or run off into the Delta? The leaching process is to dry it out. What is left afterwards? Dusty remnants blowing our way? Will it contaminate Discovery Bay’s drinking water?
These are some of the many questions that I wanted to go to the April BDCP meeting to ask.
The Plight of the Farmers
In the March 20 meeting, Delta Farmer Daniel Wilson had asked an obvious question: “Why is it going through Grand Island, Tyler Island when it could be Stone Lakes Refuge or Statton island where there are no capital improvements? Do it on public property, not private citizen’s property. I didn’t find out until 4-5 days ago when I saw it on a blurry map! Right now my house is under 20 feet of mud. Another point, you are probably going to distroy the town of Walnut Grove because you’re putting a 3.5 million yard leaching plant upwind of the town.” (A town that is listed in the Delta Plan as one of the heritage Delta towns to be preserved and protected.)
Jerry Meral gave a comment that is becoming similar to many of their responses: “Nothing is final. When people down near Courtland said the forebay is in a bad place, we took that pretty seriously and we ended up proposing to move the forebay to an area that may not welcome it but the impacts will be less. I would like to meet with you directly, go down and see the land.” In other words they are reasonable people, they are willing to be educated and flexible.
It didn’t sound that way when at the March 20 meeting a farmer specifically raised the question about what happens if the BDCP decides that a particular piece of property was needed for habitat restoration and the seller is unwilling to sell and was told that it was within the bounds of the project to use eminent domain to take the property. A farmer later questioned the entire premise of removing farmlands to save the fish. “But farming coexisted with the salmon for years, they flourished with the farming until the 60s and the State Water Project. It is not the farming, it is not the levees, it is the pumping.”
At the April 4th meeting another farmer asked when they would know for sure what lands were at risk. He was told plans could still be changing for a couple of years. He needs to plant vineyards this year – what is the risk? No answer. He asked what if the farmer was unwilling to sell. This time Jerry Meral avoided saying anything about eminant domain. The farmer left the podium with his head down, almost grieving.
A Clifton Court Forebay farmer who is also a school teacher complained that Clifton Court Forebay already put their farms underwater and more is at risk from this new project. Her story of being ignored by the state when their pumping facility caused damage and issues for their current farmlands was heartbreaking. She complained that her classroom is underfunded, it’s a struggle to teach and asked where is the money coming from? We need it in the schools.
Jerry Meral gave one of the standard answers including an air of being totally reasonable, surprise that there could be issues affecting people from their current plans and the offer to come meet with him and he’s sure something can be done to help her current problems with the pumps. As far as the schools, Jerry responded saying well, he couldn’t take money from the BDCP and support the schools. However, that wasn’t actually a truthful question, at least from what we know so far (the later chapters will spell out the funding plan). But to-date the plan has been for the water rate payers to ultimately pay for the tunnel pumping/operations. But the habitat restoration and mitigation would be from a new state water bond. Remember the water bill that Governor Schwarzenegger took off the ballot in 2008 because it would have been voted down and again it was removed from the 2010 ballot? Currently it is misleadingly titled “Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act” planned for the 2014 ballot. That bond is what they plan to have voters vote for to do the actual beneficial side of the BDCP plan. Bond funds that would come out of the General Fund, and yes, take away from the schools. So the farmer was exactly right – it will come down to saving the Delta from the continual and expanded destruction of pumping versus schools.
Plus why after spending hundreds of millions of dollars creating this BDCP plan is it the case that they have no clue about what exists in the Delta: where the farms and homes are, where the cities are, where the scenic waterways are. Why are they waiting for farmers and citizens to read through their thousands and thousands of pages of plan to alert them to the issues?
The plight of the farmers and more pictures is in the Sacramento Bee:
Impacts including the Boating Community:
At last Thursday’s BDCP (April 4), Chapter 4 describing the construction and muck was to be one of the chapters reviewed at the April 4th meeting. Save the California Delta Alliance met before the meeting and car pooled there. The BDCP reviewed Chapter 4 and called for questions. I was confused because they had not mentioned the words “Construction” or “Muck” in their overview about what Chapter 4 contained. So I raised my questions anyway. Why does the tunnel go through the heart of the Delta? Didn’t they know they are putting a major construction site right next to the most popular anchorage in the South Delta? And leaving a smell muck pile afterwards? And a bigger muck pile next to Discovery Bay! Is it toxic? What if it leaks? What is the risk to our drinking water? etc., etc.
Jerry Meral gave a variation of his standard answer/non-answers – that the exact location of the tunnel and construction is not set in concrete. All will be well.
What good is the “Delta Plan”?
The Delta Plan is supposed to protect the Delta. It is supposed to protect the “Delta as a Place” including communities and farmlands. It has wonderful sections describing the beauty of the waterways best enjoyed by boat, the tranquil anchorages. The sloughs around Mildred and Connection slough are favorite ski runs. Yet they have decided construction should go down the middle. For those of us in the South, they really picked the our favorite waterways for their tunnel building disruption which could go on for years.
The Delta Plan says it recognizes the “Delta as a Place” and boating as an important aspect of the Delta. They talk about the cost benefits of additional recreation in the Delta. Yet this could very well remove our largest, most popular anchorage in the south Delta. Incredible!
Save the California Delta Alliance (www.NoDeltaGates.com) is based in Discovery Bay and working to protect boating, Delta farming, and local community interests for the entire Delta. We would love to have more boating and farming groups contact us to join forces against the Delta Tunnels and all related impacts harmful to our area.
Email Jan McCleery at email@example.com to get on our mailing list. Let us know if you want to volunteer to do more. Together we can make a difference!