Status Update – April 22

Lately I’ve been asked a lot, “Just exactly where are we in the battle to stop the tunnels?

So I thought I’d better do a status update.

1 – What’s Going on Now? The Water Board Hearings are In-Process: We are still in the middle of the multi-year permit process being conducted by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) or “Water Board” for short. The tunnels need the Water Board to approve a permit to locate new intakes for the tunnels north on the Sacramento River near Hood. These Hearings are a lengthy process. Part I of the hearings started in 2016 and concluded at the end of 2017. STCDA and others participated in providing testimony. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is the agency requesting the tunnel permit and have been giving testimony why the tunnels are needed. Numerous other groups, cities, counties have been giving testimony about why the tunnels would be bad. Part II of these hearings started in February and are anticipated to go on at least until June. Then they will decide whether or not to issue a permit.

The Water Board has had some hiccups with Part II. First, Michael Brodsky our legal council uncovered that the Water Board Hearing Officers and the DWR were having behind-the-scenes ex-parte communications. (A big legal “No-No.”) But the Water Board declared that was nothing, really, told everyone not to worry, all was fine. But it did delay the start of the hearings for a few weeks and will be good fodder for a legal case if they do award a Permit. Other groups also raised a complaint when the DWR announced a one tunnel plan and requested permit request changes. The Water Board blew those complaints off also, but the controversy continued. So the DWR said, “never mind – we are really going with two tunnels” and Gov. Brown got MWD to buy into paying for the second tunnel, just so that the hearings won’t be delayed until after Gov. Brown has left office. So now the Part II hearings are under way. STCDA and others are presenting testimonies regarding recreation and other aspects.

A week ago, the DWR just announced some other changes to their plan. We tried (as did others) to complain that those changes affected our Part II testimonies and we needed to have time to update them, but of course the Water Board rejected our complaints. So we will address the impacts of the project as it is currently configured in our case-in-chief now, and then after DWR submits detailed information and actually makes a decision (if they do) to make any changes, the Water Board has guaranteed us that we will have full opportunity to address those changes during the rebuttal phase later this summer. Hopefully all that will slow the project down even more. We really hope to tie it up until after Brown is out.

So then what?

2 – If the Permit is Approved, we will resort to a law suit: We anticipate the Water Board will approve the permit. Why? Because Gov. Brown has stacked the Hearing Committee with his cronies and the Water Board has been working with DWR to help them build their case. It’s a stacked deck, rigged. So then what?

As soon as the Water Board issues a permit, we and other groups will issue law suits against their decision. We think we have a very good case to make. After all, the tunnels are so destructive for the Delta and our communities here. And the Hearing process has been rigged.

3 – ACOE Permit: The Army Corps of Engineers needs to issue a permit, but that should be a fairly rubber-stamped process. But we will protest that permit also.

4 – EPA Approval: Then the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency at the Federal level) needs to approve the tunnels.

The EPA is what ultimately stopped the 2010 “Two-Gates Fish Protection Project.” And in 2014, the EPA panned the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), the predecessor project to this current WaterFix Delta Tunnels project. That rejection sent Brown et al back to the drawing board; which is when the “WaterFix” was born.

Will the EPA stop it again? “WaterFix” isn’t any better than the BDCP. In fact, it is the BDCP without any of the environmental fixes, without the habitat part. So WaterFix is just the destructive tunnel part. It seems like a no-brainer that the EPA would reject it again. Yes?

Well, unfortunately, not so fast. The Trump Administration and Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, have been dismantling the EPA as fast as possible. We really can’t depend on them to have any desire to stop a big infrastructure project that Brown tots will bring tons of new construction jobs to the state and increase profits for big agribusiness corporations just to save the Environment and help us, the little guys. Brown and Trump certainly aren’t buddy-buddy but, to-date, the word has been the Trump Administration supports the project.

Fortunately California’s environmental laws are still in-place and we, and others, have been proving at the Water Board hearings that “WaterFix” violates those as well as creating a slew of other problems. So if the EPA approves the tunnels, unfortunately another law suit.

5 – At each stage, another law suit if they forge ahead: We have laid the groundwork for these law suits through everyone attending meetings, providing all of your written comments at each point, the expert testimonies at the Water Board Hearings, and other efforts. So we remain optimistic that our position, opposing the tunnels, is well documented and justified.

This is a battle and each step requires us to use time of costly expert witnesses and some court administration costs (although to-date we’ve kept that low). Still, to continue we need support again this year.

Thank you to those of you who have already donated. Thank you especially to those who have committed monthly donations.

If you can help, click here:

Or send a check made out to “STCDA” to:
P.O. Box 1760
Discovery Bay, CA 94505

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