Posted Apr 26, 2017 at 5:41 PMUpdated Apr 26, 2017 at 5:41 PM
By Alex Breitler
Record Staff Writer
Proposed changes to a plan that is supposed to guide the Delta through the 21st century have advocates on red alert, as they worry that the new language locks in Gov. Jerry Brown’s $15 billion twin tunnels.
The revised plan does not explicitly endorse the California Water Fix, as the tunnels proposal is formally known.
It does, however, promote building one or more new intakes to pump water from the Delta, with a new underground conveyance system that would be operated in tandem with existing Delta channels.
The twin tunnels proposal satisfies all of those criteria.
“There’s only one dual conveyance project out there: The Water Fix tunnels. There’s 80,000 pages describing it. That’s what (the state and federal government) want to do,” said Bob Wright, an attorney for the environmental group Friends of the River.
“They want to say a quick ‘yes’ to the Water Fix to help that along,” Wright said.
The new language has not yet been approved by the Delta Stewardship Council, the small state agency that was formed in 2009 to balance demand for the Delta’s water with the needs of its crashing ecosystem.
The language will be presented on Friday to the seven-member council. The council could take action on the revised plan in May.
The exact language is critical, because the tunnels project must eventually be found to be consistent with the Delta Plan in order to be approved. Something like a city or county general plan, the Delta Plan will set the table for the types of projects that can be built in the future.
In its original form, the Delta Plan would have automatically included an earlier version of the tunnels plan known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. That plan, however, which included widespread habitat restoration in the Delta, was scuttled in 2015 when it became apparent that it would not be permitted by wildlife agencies.
That requires the Delta Plan to be revised.
What’s more, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge in 2016 ruled that portions of the plan were inadequate. Specifically, he found that the plan failed to include measurable targets for California to reduce its reliance on the Delta as required by law, and failed to consider a range of options to convey water.
In a prepared statement this week, staff with the Stewardship Council said a number of changes have already been made to the proposed new language after comments from council members and the public. In addition to the new underground conveyance, the draft calls for improvements to the existing system through the Delta, actions to better protect fish from the existing south Delta pumps, a “reasonable range” of new conveyance options and consideration of their cost and potential impact on the Delta as a place, among other things.
“None of the options is intended to have priority over the others,” says the council’s statement.
While calling for new “below-ground conveyance,” the draft is not specific about the size or location.
But, at a meeting packed by anti-tunnels advocates in Brentwood last month, the council’s executive officer, Jessica Pearson, said the existing method of conveying water solely through Delta channels to farms and cities from the Bay Area to San Diego is “clearly not working.”
Friday’s meeting begins at 9 a.m. in Sacramento, at 980 9th St. in the second-floor conference center.