Archive Page 2

Sierra Club speaks out for Alternatives to the Tunnel

The Sierra Club, along with STCDA, rejects the Delta Tunnel and complains that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) is refusing to really consider alternatives. Their report says,

By rejecting the commonsense alternative—that is no tunnel and investment in local and regional conservation and efficiency projects—DWR has again locked itself into a tunnel that solves nothing and creates new problems.

At the stakeholder engagement meeting, DWR argued that a commonsense alternative doesn’t solve issues of sea-level rise or possible earthquake. We argue that neither does the tunnel. And the tunnel only makes the state water system even more vulnerable to other effects of climate change, including the demonstrated effects of drought.

The commonsense alternative would provide water to people around the state without forcing more than $11 billion of spending on an environmentally destructive tunnel that will provide no new water.

On Wednesday, August 26, the stakeholder engagement committee of the DCA will meet again. We need a strong showing of Sierra Club activists and tunnel opponents to testify during the public comment period and urge that the committee demand that DWR consider the commonsense alternative to the tunnel.

Read more … Sierra Club’s Post.

STCDA’s two posts last month about the July stakeholder engagement committee meeting where DWR presented their case why alternatives were being rejected, once again: Alternatives to the Tunnel and DWR Opposes Local Water Supplies.

Back to square 1 with Newsom – VAs and the Tunnel

DISAPPOINTING describes it. Governor Newsom announced today that he has released a final version of the Water Resilience Portfolio, the Administration’s blueprint for equipping California to cope with more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, declining fish populations, over-reliance on groundwater and other challenges.

The stated priorities include:

  • Achieving voluntary agreements (VAs) to increase flows and improve conditions for native fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its watersheds
  • Modernizing the Delta water conveyance system to protect long-term functionality of the State Water Project

There’s nothing about desalination or conservation, nothing about a project for groundwater recharge. There is this about recycling: “Updating regulations to expand water recycling” but what does that mean? Weakening regulations? It doesn’t sound like there’s money for a recycling plant.

And VAs are business as usual. Reverse the good decision of the SWRCB to increase flows into the Delta. I hope the lawsuit recently won will help the Water Board enforce the improved Delta flow standards needed.

And, unfortunately, the “Modernizing the Delta water conveyance system” is the other way of saying a Single Tunnel.

DWR Opposes Local Water Supplies

Developing local water supplies for the state (desalination, recycling, conservation, groundwater recharging) is the only way to meet the Delta Reform Act/Delta Plan goals of “Reduction of reliance on the Delta through regional self-sufficiency.” Yet, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) continues to reject any alternatives or additions to their single tunnel project, leaving the state increasingly dependent on the shrinking Sierra snowpack as the source of water.

This recent post by the California Water Research (CWR) is worth the read: DWR Rejects Consideration of No Tunnel Alternatives. It delves into the No Tunnel Alternative presented by DWR at the July 22, 2020 Stakeholder Engagement Committee Meeting and presents information missing from my last post on why DWR is still rejecting desalination, recycling and conservation efforts, and improving the levees and fish screens to support continued use of existing export facilities.

Here is Alternative 3:

Key points made in the CWR post:

DWR stated that continued use of the current State Water Project (SWP) pumps without a new tunnel did not meet the project objectives of climate resiliency, seismic resiliency, and water supply reliability.

However, CWR points out that:

  • DWR has not defined “climate resiliency” or “seismic resiliency,” so this assessment is qualitative.
  • CWR has pointed out in the past that the tunnel intake locations may be too low to accommodate sea level rise to 2100.
  • And the single tunnel may also not be designed to withstand a maximum earthquake in the Delta.

But in addition … and this is the key point to remember … CWR makes VERY good points why DWR’s stance against the alternative technologies is flawed:

  1. Local water supplies are the ONLY supplies that are truly resilient to long term sea level rise, and may also be the only supplies that would continue to be available after a maximum earthquake in the Delta.
  2. Yet DWR’s definition of “sustainability” is narrowly focused on the reliability of Delta exports.

Garamendi’s Portfolio Plan Solves DWR’s No Tunnel Issues

Circling back to our prior STCDA post, Alternatives to the Tunnel, we noted that the first Alternative DWR presented at the SEC meeting was Garamendi’s “A Plan for All of California” which proposed a much smaller 3,000 cfs pipe (not a tunnel), addressing DWR’s issues with concern about a Delta disaster disrupting water flows, combined with new local technologies. DWR analyzed only the smaller pipe and said, “not enough water, don’t like the location” and failed to add the rest of the Garamendi alternative to the analysis.

It is interesting to note that a very similar plan was proposed by the Delta Counties Coalition years ago including a 3,000 cfs pipe plus additional projects to enhance local supplies.

Clearly DWR is not adequately reviewing alternatives … so nothing has changed.

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.


  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.

Risk to Delta Farmland

Delta Farm Produce

Thoughts from the July 27, 2020 Stakeholder Engagement Committee Meeting: A long presentation was provided about changes to the single tunnel (Delta Conveyance Project) plan looking at: (1) Reducing the footprint of what will remain afterwards (the size of the platform around each launch site) and (2) How to retain viable topsoil and after the project layer RTM (Muck) covered by topsoil to restore as much of the island as possible to useable farmland. That sounded positive – changes being considered due to inputs from Delta residents and farmers worried about the economic loss from so much Delta farmland being taken out of production forever.

The SEC farm representatives expressed serious doubts, though. Doubts that the RTM will make a viable layer (since there is absolutely no nutrients in it and instead are chemicals like mercury and arsenic) plus conditioning chemicals. Doubts if the topsoil, if removed for years, would be able to be restored since its beneficial soil microorganisms would have died also. These doubts leave remaining concerns about the loss of agriculture and economic benefits.

But more than that … I couldn’t help but ponder … The DWR has been studying doing this project for years … YEARS … and no one ever stopped to consider that (1) Delta farmland is the most fertile land in the country, due to the eons of time creating it, (2) It takes less water because it is surrounded by the Delta, (3) Their project was going to risk huge farm islands going totally out of production forever? The OBVIOUS conclusion must be that the DWR knows nothing about the Delta and has never cared about the Delta or these issues would have come up before now.

I hope the farm representatives on the SEC were glad that some changes for the positive “may” have come out from their hours and hours of participation in these meetings. But for me, I found it very depressing.

Concerns Raised about Muck

This report on the Reusable Tunnel Material (aka Muck) from the June 2020 meeting of the Stakeholder Engagement Meeting was provided by the Locke SEC member.


“At the June 24th meeting, DCA pointed out that 6 to 15 million cubic yards of soil will be generated yet the tunnel project will require 20 million cubic yard of soil fill at various project sites for various project features. The RTM generated will not be enough for the project’s own use.”

But the SEC members are not convinced. “SEC members are still pressing for more information. Subject matter of toxicity in the soil, DTSC (Department of Toxic Substance Control) under CalEPA and other agencies will be brought in to monitor. SEC members queried that even some of the substance either does not exceed the standard threshold or at the level of natural occurrence, it still does not mean it is healthy to the public. For example arsenic in the rivers of the Central Valley at the natural occurrence level is always a problem. The DCA agreed with this issue and assured further studies will be carried out.”

“At the same time, more studies on the health safety issue of the conditioner will be carried out. The conditioner is a formula that they out into the RTM to make it more workable for the geotechnical requirement of the various project sites.”

Environmental groups win water quality and flow standards lawsuit

Some rare good news—see below. See Press Release from the California Water Impact Network below:

July 21, 2020


Landmark Lawsuit Settlement Between Environmentalists
and State Water Boards Strengthens Delta Protections

Enforceable transparency and analysis to replace years of failure to comply with
existing water quality and flow standards.

SACRAMENTO, California — Three California environmental nonprofits secured a landmark settlement agreement with the California State Water Resources Control Board to uphold the common law Public Trust Doctrine and other legal protections for imperiled fish species in the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay/Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta Estuary.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015 by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (“CSPA”), the California Water Impact Network (“CWIN”), and AquAlliance, brought sweeping claims against the State Water Board. It alleged that the agency’s management of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay-Delta displayed an overarching pattern and practice of:

  • failure to comply with the Public Trust Doctrine;
  • failure to implement Sacramento River temperature management requirements;
  • failure to ensure that fish below dams be maintained in “good condition”; and
  • acceptance of water quality below minimum Clean Water Act standards.

“The Water Board’s long-standing pattern and practice of inadequately implementing foundational environmental laws has brought the Central Valley aquatic ecosystem to the brink of collapse. This settlement agreement is a major step forward, compelling the State Water Board to fulfill crucial legal requirements it had previously ignored,” said Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director.

Among other things, the settlement terms protecting the Sacramento and Bay-Delta include:

  • transparent evaluation of the specific Public Trust Doctrine factors the Water Board will consider in determining if new Bay-Delta Plan requirements will protect fish and wildlife;
  • a Sacramento River Temperature Management process that addresses controllable factors, including deliveries, and ensures adequate staffing, modeling and public review.
  • consideration of California Fish and Game Code section 5937, protecting fish below dams, in Bay-Delta Plan updates; and
  • transparent Public Trust analysis for Temporary Urgency Change Petitions.

The ancient common law Public Trust Doctrine establishes powerful public property rights in natural resources. In 2009, the Legislature, recognizing that Bay-Delta fisheries were collapsing and that standards had not been modified since 1995, commanded the State Water Board to update its “flow criteria for the Delta ecosystem necessary to protect public trust resources.” A decade later, in 2018, the State Water Board finally approved updated standards for the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, known as “Phase I,” which is the subject of a separate lawsuit by CSPA, CWIN, AquAlliance, and many others. Now, in a departure from past practices, the settlement agreement requires the Board’s “Phase II” updates, addressing Sacramento River Flows and Cold Water, Delta Outflows, and Interior Delta Flows, to include a “Transparent Public Trust Evaluation,” covering enumerated factors.

“The Water Board has agreed to include ‘an express evaluation’ of the factors it considers and balances in determining whether the new standards will protect the Public Trust interests in fish and wildlife,” said Jennings.

“Before now, the Water Board’s consideration of public trust resources had been perfunctory at best,” said Carolee Krieger, CWIN Executive Director. “We hope this lawsuit will result in a culture change at the Water Board, with long-lasting impact. This agreement has teeth and can be enforced,” Krieger said.

The courts have called California Fish and Game Code section 5937 “a legislative expression of the public trust protecting fish as trust resources when found below dams.” Yet the Water Board’s past pattern and practice has been to ignore this statute altogether in its Bay-Delta planning. This agreement will now ensure that 5937 is explicitly considered in the Water Board’s Phase II analysis.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2015, after the Water Board’s approval of a series of “Temporary Urgency Change Petitions” (TUCPs) that relaxed permit restrictions for the U.S Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources. The resulting changes during the 2014-2016 drought had catastrophic results for fish. Most of the fourteen TUCP orders failed to mention the Public Trust Doctrine at all, with only a few passing references. Under the settlement, the Water Board now agrees that its consideration of TUCPs must contain an express public trust analysis.

“A transparent process is the only way to ensure the Water Board complies with the law,” said Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance Executive Director. “Back room deals will be a lot harder when the Water Board has to explain, in writing, how it is advancing the public’s interests in the Public Trust.”

“As a result of this lawsuit, the State Water Board can no longer completely ignore the Public Trust Doctrine in its Basin Planning and water rights orders,” said CSPA and CWIN Board Member and Mike Jackson.

Because of the lawsuit, Sacramento River temperature management will also improve.

To protect salmon spawning habitat, the Central Valley Basin Plan requires that the Bureau of Reclamation manage “controllable factors” to keep Sacramento River water temperature less than 56˚F from Keswick Dam to Hamilton City. The Basin Plan also requires Reclamation to manage controllable factors to keep water temperature no greater than 68˚F between Hamilton City and the I Street Bridge in Sacramento, whenever higher temperatures would be detrimental to migrating fish. In 1990, the Water Board adopted Water Rights Order 90-5, requiring the Bureau to submit an annual Temperature Management Plan for how to meet these temperatures. However, as late as 2019—nearly 4 years into the lawsuit—the Water Board had never required the Bureau to actually demonstrate whether it could provide colder water farther downstream using factors within its control. As a result of this lawsuit and settlement agreement, the Water Board is now asking Reclamation to analyze alternatives for the timing and quantities of water that Reclamation delivers to water users downstream, to meet temperature standards. The Board will also seek Reclamation’s analysis earlier in the year and will provide an annual opportunity for public comment and hearing.

The agreement includes an array of additional improvements. The Water Board has agreed to maintain staff with sufficient modeling and other expertise to actually evaluate the Bureau’s Sacramento River temperature impacts. The Water Board’s Phase II analysis commits to evaluate “a carryover margin of safety” of stored water from one water year to the next, to require water supply management that buffers against the potential for future dry years. Phase II will also evaluate water transfers and effects on groundwater.

“It is our expectation that, as a result of this agreement, the Water Board’s future consideration of TUCPs and Bay-Delta Plan updates will now account for and better protect public trust fisheries,” said Jennings.

CSPA, CWIN, and AquAlliance were represented by Jason Flanders at ATA Law Group, and the Law Office of Adam Keats.

Lawsuit Settlement Agreement.


New Name, Same Game

This is a very good write-up of where we are on the Single Tunnel (Delta Conveyance Project) from the Contra Costa Herald. It talks primarily about the Stakeholder Engagement Committee (SEC) that has Delta folks who are opposed to the tunnel working with the DCA engineers to give feedback on the big issues and problems with their plan. The article quotes a lot from our STCDA President, Karen Mann, who is on the SEC representing small businesses, Discovery Bay, and boaters.

Contra Costa Herald “New Name, Same Game.”

Holy Cow – Cows and their feed are the top users of Delta water

(Photo: George Rose/Getty Images)

Did you know that cows and their feed are the #1 users of Delta water? Even more than the almonds we love to complain about.

Remember those ads about California cows are happy cows and showed cows in the snow in Wisconsin versus happy cows in the sunshine in California? I’ve always said those Wisconsin cows weren’t THAT unhappy and that cows should be raised where there’s enough water! Harris Ranch, for example, is huge.

HOWEVER, orchards are still a BIG problem. I don’t want to focus on which crops/animals are THE WORST for taking necessary water from the Delta. The problem with orchards, versus line crops, is that they cannot be fallowed during dry years.

THE GOAL of the Delta Reform Act included providing EXCESS water for beneficial use. The original concept of the CVP was that excess water could be used for growing crops During drought years, the fields could be fallowed. I don’t know but suppose that it would include some Federal or State aid to farmers for fallowing their fields. That allowed us to have safe, California-grown table produce like beans, carrots, corn, lettuce rather than importing from Mexico, Costa Rica, and elsewhere. Orchards (almonds, pistachios, pomegranates) can’t be fallowed during drought years. The choices are to continue to pump more than the excess water and ruin the Delta environment or overdraft the ground water table and poor communities lose their drinking water (which happened during the 2014 drought). Orchards cause those to be the only two choices. Remaining with line crops instead of orchards gives an alternate, better choice: fallowing the fields in times of drought.

Stanislaus County replaced 1 in 6 of its farm acres with almonds during the 2014 drought. Westlands expanded the almond orchards on both sides of I-5 each year during that drought and have continued to do so. And we know about Resnicks and their pistachios and pomegranates. (They don’t worry as much about water – they are part owners of the Kern Water Bank!)

I would like to see the State come up with guidelines for farmers that are based on water availability and on what is best for America versus the farmers’ current profit-based decisions.

And while cows are bad, I won’t step down from my attacks on orchards (almond and other nuts and pomegranates) in the Central Valley desert fed by Delta water. I’ll need to throw a few more jabs at the cows, as well 🙂 Send them to Wisconsin!

Here’s the article:

Delta Legacy Communities Express their Outrage

This is a poignant letter written by the Delta Legacy Communities expressing their outrage that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) continue to push forward with a Delta conveyance based on the cancelled WaterFix project. They rightfully object that the WaterFix was a project that did not use best available science, or comply with the Delta Plan, according to the Delta Stewardship Council’s draft 2018 findings. Yet DWR’s recent Section 404 permit application to the US Army Corps of Engineers is based in substantial part on the withdrawn WaterFix project specifications. This continuation of the previous project is wholly unacceptable to our communities.

They object to the agencies apparent rush to get federal permits.They rightfully point out that the WaterFix was remanded to the DWR because of the fact that it was inconsistent with the Delta Plan – protecting the Delta’s legacy communities, boating, and recreation.

They point out that at the January 22, 2020 SEC meeting, the DCA’s Intake Lead Engineer, Phil Ryan, announced to the SEC members that the DCA had reviewed potential intake locations, and decided that the WaterFix locations were the best possible locations. DCA Executive Director Kathryn Mallon then stated to the SEC that the fish agencies had approved the intake design and locations and the DCA would not be considering suggestions for alternatives. As with the twin tunnels project, Delta stakeholders had no input into this internal decision.

The intakes in the north are on top of the legacy communities. The Delta Protection Commission rightfully pointed out that:

It is not hyperbole to suggest that the CWF [California WaterFix] project presents an existential crisis for the small Delta communities that would be most affected by the protracted, intensive construction period, the permanent infrastructure, and the radical – not evolutionary – effects on the Delta economic drivers of agriculture, recreation, and emerging heritage tourism. DWR has failed to grapple with the reality, demonstrated through evidence in the record, that CWF puts the long-term sustainability of small Delta communities in serious jeopardy

And stated that it was equivalent on causing blight to those communities.

I’m glad to see they are pushing back. The Single Tunnel Project is abysmal. There is no argument to saying otherwise.

Read the entire letter here.

Blog Stats

  • 101,016 hits

Support the STCDA

Sign up for Emails

Sign Up Now

Request a New Lawn Sign

Click Here to send an email to the lawn sign committee.

On Twitter

Receive news blog via email.

More Blogs

Educational Books about the Delta

Sassy the Salmon
The Fable of the Farmer and the Fish
All ages: K and above
Proceeds go to STCDA