Posted by: Jan | July 25, 2013

Tunnel Damage – They won’t just go “Under” the Delta


The current configuration of the old “Peripheral Canal” project is now being sold as underground tunnels. The “Peripheral Canal” in 1982 was a plan to build an above-the-ground canal around the Delta near Stockton somewhat where the current BDCP map below shows their so-called “Eastern Alignment” (in green). The PC project was a bad plan because it removed fresh water before it flowed through the Delta and was voted down by a wide margin. The new Tunnel Project is even worse.

The 1982 Peripheral Canal, besides removing much needed fresh water from the Delta, would have had the same pumping intakes that now threaten the lovely communities along the Sacramento River like Clarksburg, Hood, Courtland. However, the old PC would have preserved many of the scenic central waterways (although they would have still ended up filled with brackish salt water and dead fish).

Fast forward to 2013 and the “Peripheral Tunnels” are the current project plan. These tunnels are still referred to as the “Peripheral Tunnels” because they do all of the environmental damage the Peripheral Canal would have imposed. However, they have an even worse effect on the scenic Delta itself. During construction, waterways will be ripped up, the noise of pile drivers 24×7, barges and construction will make it hard for boaters to enjoy a peaceful outing and even harder for birds and wildlife to remain in the area.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) proposing the new tunnel project studied three alignments as shown in the map below. Besides the Eastern Alignment, a “Western Alignment” that would have gone somewhat around the Delta although I don’t know the impact on Rio Vista and other scenic towns in that area and a through-the-middle “Central Alignment.” Instead of a Canal, they plan to go 150 feet below the Delta. But don’t feel placated that it means less impact to the scenic beauty. The construction is not all “below” the Delta because to build the tunnels requires creating a swath of construction destruction from Hood to the Clifton Court Forebay. The “chosen” alignment is the Central Alignment.

For Delta farmers, boaters and people in the South Delta, the worst choice was the “Central Alignment.” When it was an above-the-ground canal, the plan was to cement-wall in the entire core of the Delta including Mildred Island – virtually wiping out boating in the South Delta. This was for many the worst choice albeit the shortest. Because if the state is trying to preserve the scenic beauty of the Delta, as stated in the Delta Plan, then building cement walls down the middle was a disastrous idea. Some felt appeased hearing that instead of a canal, the new plan was tunnels going “beneath” the Delta. But that is a misconception.

They won’t go under the Delta and leave it’s scenic beauty unharmed. No – the construction project will rip up the entire central portion for 10-20 years and leave smelly tunnel muck in it’s wake.

These new tunnels create all of the environmental damage the canal would have done plus the construction project will destroy numerous scenic waterways including half of the scenic waterways in the South Delta. Huge barges – football size – will be constructed along the 35 mile stretch. Pile driving 24×7, lights, power lines – right next to the Hilton fireworks display area where traditionally thousands of boats anchor out for a week of festivities around the July 4th event which will cause boaters to look elsewhere than boating for that holiday for years. Similarly Mildred Island anchorage will be disrupted with a football size dock next to it, pile driving, lights. It is unlikely that the hundreds of boats, if they can even get into the anchorage, will want to gather there for the big weekends and events such as the Labor Day SeaRay “circle” of over 100 boats each year. When summer weekends and holidays don’t attract boaters to the marinas, businesses will suffer, people will move away.

Delta farmers are threatened from all sides. Many are being told the state can take away their family farms by eminent domain for habitat projects. Some of their farms are planned as tunnel muck sites which would totally destroy their lands, homes and facilities. And for many others still able to keep their farms, the plans to move and close roads needed to get their produce to market will put them out of business.

Melinda Terry, manager of the North Delta Water Agency and participant on the BDCP panels, describes the construction horror in detail in a recent video and write-up in the Central Valley Business Times.

Very little information is offered by the BDCP about why the Central Alignment is the chosen alignment. Perhaps since it’s a bit shorter there’s a cost advantage. But if you are trying to protect a scenic wonderland you don’t put a 10-15 year construction project through it’s heart. If you wanted to restore the Yosemite Valley, would you dig up the floor for 10 years? Bring in power lines, lights, pile drivers 24 x 7? Scare away all of the native species? Of course not.

Yet this is what the Delta Plan is allowing due to its lack of real requirements about what projects need to do to “save” the Delta.

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