DCA Continuing Delta Tunnel Project Design

Tunnel Design Work Forges Ahead!

Even though the Governor has cancelled the Delta Tunnel project and DWR has been sent back to the drawing board, Metropolitan Water District and other water contractors are pushing to get a one tunnel project started ASAP. And they are having some success.

California Water Research has sounded the alarm that the Joint Powers Authority continuing Delta tunnel project engineering design.

Who are the Joint Powers Authority?

Well, in 2018, DWR delegated the design and construction of the WaterFix project to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA), a Joint Powers Authority (JPA for short) created by the State Water Contractors (i.e., the exporters like Metropolitan Water, Westlands, etc.) Do you remember when we went to the first meeting of the DCA and were abhorred that the newly elected President of the Board, Tony Estremera, from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, was joking with Karla Nemeth, head of the DWR, that he was looking forward to a nice, long construction period?
Tony Estremera and Karla Nemeth (Photo courtesy of Gene Beley)

What? No one in the Delta is looking forward to this destructive construction at all, let along a nice long one!

Why didn’t their work get stopped when the Governor cancelled the tunnels?

On May 2, 2019, DWR sent a letter to the DCA stating that all approvals for the WaterFix project had been rescinded. But the letter also stated:

As the Department embarks on a new environmental review process and pursues new environmental permits, it will do this in tandem with design and engineering work needed. … This approach provides the greatest opportunity to deliver a project ready for construction with minimal delay.

In other words, they are planning that a one tunnel project “leverages” the prior design.

Is that a bad idea? There has been a lot of money spent on the current design.

Yes it’s a bad idea! The current project had two huge areas of concern, which is why that project was rejected by the Delta Stewardship Council Staff.

Michael Brodsky, our legal council, successfully argued that the WaterFix (two Delta Tunnel plan) was inconsistent with the Delta Plan (the legal document that any project affecting the Delta has to be consistent with and acceptable.) The DSC Staff agreed! It was then that the DSC recommended DWR rescind the project. And they did. That was a huge win for the anti-tunnel coalition.

Remind me why the two tunnel plan was rejected?

One: The destructive construction project would ruin the Delta because it goes through the center of the estuary waterways.

  • It would cause blight on the historic legacy communities in the North Delta because of construction impacts. This directly conflicts with the Delta Reform Act requirement to protect legacy communities and the rural nature of the Delta.
  • It would destroy boating and recreation throughout the Delta. Marinas and related businesses would close. This also directly conflicts with the Delta Reform Act requirement to protect boating and recreation.
  • The influx of columns of heavy construction trucks would cause gridlock on the majority of the Delta roads and highways and ruin a majority of the small two-lane levee roads.

Therefore, it seems obvious that any new plan must pick an alternate route, like going East around the Delta instead of through the center of the Delta.

Two: The water contractors have been exporting too much water for decades, which has decimated the fisheries. Even if they only take the same amount of water combining the export amounts via the new tunnel and current pumps combined, that is still too much.

Therefore, while a new tunnel may provide more operational flexibility and export reliability, any new plan must reduce overall exporting amounts.

So what happens next?

  1. Delta activist groups are pushing back and working to rescind the JPA’s design engineering contract and stop any work.
  2. The Governor called for stakeholders to be involved in the planning this time. That must happen.

Here is a good report about the situation: Joint Powers Authority continuing Delta tunnel project engineering design.

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