Local Governments and Delta water agencies file twin tunnels lawsuit
Department of Water Resources’ twin tunnels approval ignores environmental impacts and viable alternatives
Today, representatives from Contra Costa County, San Joaquin County, Solano County, Yolo County, Contra Costa County Water Agency, Central Delta Water Agency, South Delta Water Agency and Local Agencies of the North Delta filed a lawsuit in the Sacramento County Superior Court challenging the Department of Water Resources’ flawed approval of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the California WaterFix project, commonly known as the “Twin Tunnels.” Representatives of the agencies that filed the lawsuit provided the following statements:
“Contra Costa County has long been a protector of the Delta and this California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) challenge should not come as a surprise. Like many other Bay Delta stakeholders, we have identified major flaws with the WaterFix proposal, significant impacts to water quality and the ecosystem, and continue to urge consideration of other more viable alternatives. What is surprising is the continued panicked rush by the state to push for a project that does not pencil out. Clearly, the enormous project costs and the lack of new water will have exporters walking away,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff.
“This EIR process was always rigged in favor of the misnamed California WaterFix. The truth never mattered and pertinent facts were ignored because the state had already predetermined the selection of the twin tunnels. This lawsuit should provide some accountability by the state to accurately disclose negative impacts of the project, genuinely examine viable alternatives that will avoid environmental harm and legitimately give the public and affected agencies the opportunity to review and comment on anticipated and significant tunnel impacts,” said San Joaquin County Supervisor Chuck Winn.
“The Tunnels project threatens the Delta’s water quality and agricultural heritage, but the lead agencies have still not fully disclosed or mitigated the project’s significant, negative impacts on Solano County and the Delta region. The environmental review that we’re challenging today simply fails the basic legal requirement to inform decision makers and the public about the true impacts of the project, but at least one thing is clear: the Tunnels represent a major missed opportunity to find a real solution for the challenges facing the Delta and the state,” said Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson.
“The WaterFix poses serious and unacceptable risks to the Delta environment, economy, and way of life. This lawsuit asserts that the state’s analysis of those risks is deficient and fails to afford full and proper consideration of other viable alternatives. The state cannot simply paper over the fears of Delta communities and farmers. Yolo County has a responsibility to protect the values of the Delta, the ongoing viability of its many small local agencies and reclamation districts, and communities like Clarksburg that are ground zero for a project of unprecedented cost, scale, and uncertainty,” stated Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas.
“The environmental review for the WaterFix has substantial flaws and the entire process has been corrupted by Federal and state predetermination of the outcome prior to initiation of the environmental review process,” said Central Delta Water Agency representative, Dante Nomellini.
“Challenging the state’s CEQA document was an easy decision considering the massive unmitigated impacts to the Delta’s residents, fish and water quality. Despite a decade or more of development, the Twin Tunnels proposal is still unable to capture any new water when flows through the Delta are at their highest because there is no new storage south of the Delta. What’s clear is the WaterFix fails to achieve the co-equal goals of securing a more reliable water supply while restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem and protecting the Delta as a place,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor Diane Burgis on behalf of the Contra Costa County Water Agency.
“The ongoing WaterFix hearings being conducted by the state Water Resources Control Board have revealed that with the tunnel project in operation, there will be time when the salinity in the southern Delta will increase two-fold or more, and at times when the salinity standard is already being violated. South Delta Water Agency has no choice but to oppose a project designed to injure local diverters,” said John Herrick, an attorney representing South Delta Water Agency.
“For ten years we’ve been fighting to get the tunnels’ proponents to look jointly for better solutions that don’t destroy the Delta. They didn’t listen and now we’re turning to the courts to enforce critical environmental protections to save the Delta and Delta communities,” noted Osha Meserve, counsel for the Local Agencies of the North Delta.
“As farmers growing wine grapes and producing wine, we rely on adequate fresh water flows from the Sacramento River as we all have for the last 165 years. The tunnels threaten family farms throughout the Delta, along with its fish, wildlife, and all its environmental values,” concluded Clarksburg farmer, Mark Wilson.
Lawsuits challenging the Department of Water Resources’ approval of the proposed project have been filed in the Superior Courts of several California counties. Because of the large number of lawsuits expected, the parties anticipate an effort to coordinate them in a single venue, which could take several months. The petition can be found here.
Lawsuit Challenges Destructive Delta Tunnels Project in California
A coalition of conservation groups today sued the California Department of Water Resources over its approval of the controversial Delta tunnels project.
The lawsuit was filed in Sacramento Superior Court by AquAlliance, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Water Impact Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Friends of the River, Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Planning and Conservation League, Restore the Delta, Save Our Sandhill Cranes and Sierra Club California.
“Once again Big Ag in the San Joaquin Valley has come begging for more corporate welfare,” said Adam Keats, a senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “Only this time it’s at an obscene scale, with tens of billions of dollars to be pilfered from the people’s pockets, an entire ecosystem driven to collapse, and incredible harm caused to the Delta farming economy and California’s sustainable salmon fishery.”
The suit challenges the proposal to build two 35-mile-long tunnels to siphon water from the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay-Delta to send to Southern California, which could cost up to $67 billion. The project would increase extinction risk for several endangered species and potentially devastate Delta farmers, Sacramento Valley communities and fishermen throughout the region.
“This project no doubt sets the all-time record for the combination of environmental destruction and economic waste threatened by a single California public-works project,” said Bob Wright, senior counsel for Friends of the River.
The project’s approval violates the state’s environmental review law, as well as laws and policies intended to fairly allocate water resources and preserve salmon and other natural resources. The agency’s flawed and misleading environmental impact report for the project failed to consider alternatives to building the tunnels.
“The environmental impact report is an 80,000 page omelet of distortion and half-truth pretending that massive water diversions won’t harm this severely degraded estuary,” said Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “The Delta has already been deprived of most of its natural flow. This project would push native fisheries into extinction and significantly diminish the quality of water to farmers, municipalities and the environment.”
The Department’s project approval is one of a number of hurdles the tunnels project must clear before construction. The county of Sacramento and cities of Antioch and Stockton filed separate lawsuits last week against the state water department’s approval.
Conservation and fishing groups have already filed two lawsuits challenging flawed federal Endangered Species Act permits for tunnel construction. Challenges are likely against issuance of state endangered species permits, the inadequate federal environmental review, additional permits from federal wildlife agencies, wetlands fill permits and water-rights changes.
“Californians aren’t going to sit back and let this multibillion-dollar boondoggle destroy the Bay-Delta ecosystem and what’s left of our salmon runs,” said Jeff Miller at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups suing. “This Southern California water grab would be an economic and ecological nightmare for everyone.”
The two giant Delta tunnels, both expected to be as wide as a four-story building is tall, would withdraw enormous amounts of freshwater from the Sacramento River to pumping plants in the South Delta. The tunnels could divert up to 15,000 cubic feet per second, on top of diversions from the existing Delta pumping facilities of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project.
“DWR’s project won’t create new water, but will create huge environmental and economic damage,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “It’s irresponsible for the agency to not consider alternatives that are more responsible.”
The water diversions would significantly degrade environmental conditions in the Delta by reducing flows, increasing salinity, damaging the food web and promoting harmful algal blooms. They would prevent flows needed for fish habitat and water quality, during critical life stages for protected fish species including chinook salmon, steelhead trout, green sturgeon, and delta and longfin smelt. Transmission lines associated with the tunnels project are also likely to harm and kill greater sandhill cranes, in violation of California’s “fully protected species” statutes.
The complaint states that the project approval violates the California Environmental Quality Act, Delta Reform Act, California’s “Fully Protected Species” statutes and California Public Trust Doctrine.
The Department of Water Resources ignored project alternatives even though the California Environmental Quality Act requires consideration of a range of reasonable alternatives, and conservation groups repeatedly called for analyses of alternatives that would increase freshwater flows and reduce water system reliance on Delta water through recycling, conservation and water use efficiency. Despite demands from the public that a new environmental review be prepared, the Department certified the flawed review and approved the project on July 21, 2017.
The 2009 Delta Reform Act mandated state water-policy reforms intended to solve the decades-long conflict over California’s water resources and saving endangered salmon runs. The tunnels project violates the Act’s “coequal goals” of providing a more reliable water supply while protecting the Bay-Delta ecosystem. A required conservation plan has been abandoned, and the tunnels are now simply a water diversion project.
The state’s water department has never attempted to determine the water flows necessary to recover the Delta ecosystem. The Act prohibits construction of new Delta water conveyance facilities unless the beneficiary water users pay for all costs, but it was recently revealed that the tunnels would require a $6.5 billion taxpayer subsidy. The Department concealed its own economic analysis showing that a subsidy would be required.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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