Alternatives to the Tunnel


The main topic of the July 22, 2020 Stakeholder Engagement Committee Meeting was a presentation about alternatives “considered”, presented by Carrie Buckman, the Department of Water Resources’ Environmental Program Manager. I purposely added quotes around the term “considered” in “alternatives ‘considered’,” because the report sounded like more of the same to me … an exercise required by the EIR NEPA/CEQA process, but not really being considered by the DWR as alternatives to their preferred tunnel. This was another very upsetting presentation to sit through.

If you don’t want to read this whole report, at least read the summary about The Issue with DWR’s Project Objectives to understand why DWR’s review of alternatives is, in my opinion, invalid.


Ms. Buckman went through a few alternatives and explained why they were all rejected.

1. Garamendi’s “A Water Plan for All California”

This plan proposes a much smaller 3,000 cfs pipe (not a tunnel) – more like the pipes already used near the surface by East Bay MUD to route water to Alameda. It is not as disruptive as tunneling, no RTM (Muck), less disruption to farms, no dewatering of wells needed, no risk to drinking water, sewage treatment plants, the railroad trestle, levees.

First, does it meets basic project objectives? She says ‘no’ because:

  • Reliance on channels, canals, and levees provide limited seismic resilience
  • Lower flow provides less operational flexibility between the existing and new facilities for the protection of species and capture of excess flows

Wait a minute … if the main Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel is not seismically resilient, don’t you think that should be an emergency project to upgrade it? And we like less flow being removed from the Sacramento River. Sounds like two reasons to consider it, not reject it. She also thought there were significant construction impacts associated with working in West Sacramento to build a fish screen and low head pump station. Construction on the west bank of the Sacramento River would result in noise, transportation, visual, air quality, and other impacts related to construction activities through highly populated areas of West Sacramento.

All right – propose a better location for the intakes.

She also stated that the “fish screen protrudes into the Sacramento River and could be disruptive.” But they are proposing much larger areas of fish screens with their current plan. I may be missing something. It didn’t sound very scientific or logical reasons to reject it.

BUT THE BIGGEST ISSUE WITH REJECTING THIS ALTERNATIVE: Garamendi’s plan also includes:

  1. Conservation,
  2. Recycling,
  3. The creation of new storage systems,
  4. Fix the Delta – right sized conveyance, levee improvements, and habitat restoration,
  5. Science driven process,
  6. Protection of existing water rights.

None of those were included in DWR’s review or Ms. Buckman’s report. She only addressed part of #4, “right sized conveyance.” THAT IS WHY DWR’S REJECTION IS BOGUS. Garamendi is proposing a portfolio of solutions, to work together, to reduce reliance on the Delta through regional self-sufficiency, while trying to address how to meet the State Water Project’s short-term objectives and issues and perceived risks with the current pumps.

2. Dr. Pyke’s Sherman Island Proposal

We knew DWR would reject this alternative again as they have in the past. Why? Because the premise of the proposal is that they should build a reservoir on Sherman Island north of Antioch and pump from there.

WHAT THAT WOULD MEAN is that although DWR “claims” they will operate the new tunnel to still maintain the salinity line to not rise above Antioch, that is not true. The long-term plan is to allow salinity to intrude.

That is the beauty of Dr. Pyke’s proposal … it is designed to keep DWR and the water contractors honest. Hence it, once again, is summarily rejected. It would mean they would need to continue to reduce pumping and increase Delta flows and that is not in their goals or plans.

Whether it would work with sea level rise is another question … but I’ve always liked the concept.

3. No Tunnel and Improving Levees

DWR’s issue with any of these options?

  • Improving levees and through-Delta conveyance would not address the water quality component of the project objectives of climate change and sea level rise for the SWP
  • Continued use of the existing system (even with upgrades) as a long-term plan does not address seismic resiliency and the associated water supply reliability concerns.

WRONG – it does improve conditions by keeping salinity out … which is, anyway, what the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife is giving as their goal with the Franks Tract Futures project.

And again with the “seismic resiliency” story. Dr. Pyke calls it the “earthquake bogey.” One of the SEC members asked them to update their seismic information with current active (or not) fault lines and risk. They use the “seismic resiliency” as a weapon, yet the tunnels aren’t being constructed in a way to not be damaged in case of earthquake. Totally bogus reasoning.

Talking about risk, combining sea level rise and seismic issues, there is risk in the future of Delta islands flooding … primarily Bacon, Mandeville, Jones. Yet those are EXACTLY the same islands that they are talking about building their tunnel shafts on without ever addressing what will happen if one or more of those islands floods during construction or after. That is why their plan for putting construction through the Delta on Delta islands is so crazy. Or at least inconsistent.

Ms. Buckman didn’t cover Desalination, Recycling, etc. (or I zoned out by then … I’ll add more when the meeting video is available).

The Issue with DWR’s Project Objectives

Here is the major problem with DWR’s process and alternative evaluation. The objectives they are analyzing alternatives against is:

DWR is focused SOLELY on the State Water Project (for L.A.) and by association, the Central Valley Project for the farmers in the south. Their four objectives look only at it.

But the Delta Reform Act written by the Legislature in 2009, and the Delta Plan which was a result, state the objectives for the Delta are to:

  • Reduce Reliance on the Delta …
  • through Regional Self-Sufficiency

Continuing to focus on the Delta for all of the state’s water needs, particularly when climate change will continue to reduce the snow pack levels, is insanity. Only new technologies, new approaches like desalination, recycling, conservation, better groundwater management, and reduction of need in the Central Valley can actually meet either of the primary objectives.

2 Responses to “Alternatives to the Tunnel”


  1. 1 Osha Meserve August 6, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks for posting this excellent summary!


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