State Agencies get an “F”

If Gov. Jerry Brown wanted tunnels badly enough, he would have made sure that his state agencies weren’t going to fail him, again. But he didn’t.

Just like the Oroville Dam construction failures, where the Department of Water Resources chose to take design shortcuts to save time and money with the nearly disastrous result of the spillway failure and evacuation of the 188,000 people from Oroville and surrounding communities, once again the DWR has taken shortcuts that risk lives, safety, and more to save a few bucks.

While we know the entire concept of building tunnels to remove fresh water out at the Sacramento River before it has a chance to flow through the Delta will be a disaster for the estuary, waterfowl, fish, farmers, and local communities, let’s assume for arguments sake that Gov. Brown and his agencies have convinced themselves that the Tunnels are a good idea.

Then they should have made sure to design the project in a way that was safe and responsible. But they didn’t. That is why they get an “F”.

What did they do wrong?

First, they picked a route for the tunnels long ago, before doing any adequate study.

In 2009 when I attended a BDCP workshop, they were talking about their “Through-Delta” route. Since then, they continued their focus on one route, the Through-Delta Route.

Their other alternatives in the EIR, of a Western Route and an Eastern Route, seem to be there mainly to satisfy CEQA requirements to present alternatives, but have little substance. The Eastern Route was 10 miles longer, hence $1 billion to $1.7 billion more. For cost reasons alone, they never performed a real analysis of that route. Worse they only glossed over other better alternatives to tunnels like desalination, recycling, or even Dr. Pyke’s Sherman Island proposal.

They picked their “Preferred Alternative” early on, made minor changes to it, and roared ahead. Even though:

  1. Years ago their own Independent Science Board told them the soils in the Delta, along their through-Delta route, were not adequate for tunneling. They recommended moving to the Eastern Route where the soils are more stable.
  2. Although their cost justification for the tunnels is heavily weighed on the destruction earthquakes may do to levees in the Delta and claimed impact to the water system, the tunnels are not being designed to withstand the same major earthquake in the Delta. This failure will be made worse due to the unstable soils along the Through-Delta Route.
  3. They do not even list the levees as important infrastructure and have not analyzed the effect of tunneling under the levees. Levee failure will be made worse due to the unstable soils along the Through-Delta Route.
  4. They know there are numerous gas wells along the through-tunnel route, not the Eastern route. (One of the biggest gas fields in California). Even though Metropolitan Water District hit a gas well when building the tunnel to Castaic some years ago, killing 17 workers, they again are ignoring the warning signs.
  5. They do not appear to be accurately reporting the soil stability under the main channel.
  6. They are ignoring the warnings that tunneling in soft soils under railroad piers and pipelines is unsafe, they are planning to do just that under the Santa Fe Railroad and East Bay MUD’s water pipeline. This is made worse due to the unstable soils along the Through-Delta Route.
  7. thumb_IMG_3716_1024

Once again, the state agencies are focused on cost and schedule, not worker safety or other implications.

WaterFix tunneling under levees
Tunnels not being designed to withstand maximum earthquake in the Delta
Gas wells

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