REACTIONS: Water agencies, environmental organizations, legislators, and Delta stakeholders react to single-tunnel Delta conveyance project *UPDATED*

Today, Natural Resources Agency announced that the Department of Water Resources will cease pursuit of permits for a twin tunnel conveyance project and instead advance a single-tunnel conveyance project for the Bay Delta.

Here’s what water agencies and organizations had to say.  (As I receive statements, I will continue to post them here.)

From Christie Kalkowski, Bureau of Reclamation, Acting Public Affairs Officer for Mid-Pacific Region:

Reclamation has coordinated with the State as a joint petitioner to the State Water Resources Control Board for the Change in Point in Diversion process, and as the NEPA and Section 7 ESA Federal lead for the California WaterFix project.

Reclamation looks forward to working with and supporting the State to determine what a modified project as described in today’s press release would mean for the Central Valley Project.

From the Delta Counties Coalition:

In response to the California Department of Natural Resources’ announcement to withdraw proposed permits for the California WaterFix twin tunnel project and begin a new planning and review process for a smaller single tunnel that will move water north to south through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, chair of the Delta Counties Coalition (DCC), made the following statement on behalf of the Counties of Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo:

“We thank Governor Newsom for rejecting WaterFix and appreciate his direction to include a wide range of stakeholders, including Delta counties, as his Administration contemplates options to improve the state’s water delivery system.

The DCC recently met with Governor Newsom and we were pleased with his sincere desire to address California’s water supply and flood control challenges without harming Delta communities in the process.

We applaud the Governor’s announcement of his California Water Resilience Portfolio, which incorporates many of the DCC’s long-advocated water solutions. The DCC advocates for a suite of solutions, including water use efficiency measures, ground water recharge, upgrades to existing key water delivery systems and infrastructure, levee restoration, and additional above and below ground storage. Together, these integrated actions will help make California’s water supply more sustainable and climate resilient.

Any statewide water solution or through-Delta conveyance should be grounded in the best available science and must meet the Delta Reform Act’s co-equal goals of water supply reliability and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem while protecting and enhancing the unique cultural, recreational, nature resource, and agricultural values of the Delta.

We look forward to partnering with the Governor and his Administration to enhance our statewide water supply, and protect California’s natural resources and the Delta, including its communities and way of life.”

From Senator Bill Dodd:

Senator Bill Dodd, D-Napa, issued the following statement regarding the announcement today by the Department of Water Resources that it is officially rescinding permit applications for the WaterFix:

“I applaud Governor Newsom and the Department of Water Resources for formally withdrawing the permit applications for the twin tunnel project, which was fatally flawed. By closing this chapter on the euphemistically named WaterFix, I believe we can move to a thoughtful, collaborative approach that meets our water needs while safeguarding the environmental and economic vitality of the Delta. I look forward to partnering with the governor on measures that will benefit the Delta and the entire state, such as strengthening levees, restoring ecosystem habitat, improving water quality and efficiency, and increasing recharge and storage.”

Senator Dodd serves as co-chair of the Legislative Delta Caucus and represents large swaths of the Delta in Yolo, Sacramento, Contra Costa, and Solano counties.

From Maurice Hall at the Environmental Defense Fund:

“It’s critical that we address water supply and environmental needs in the Delta. Improved conveyance – if designed, operated and governed the right way – is almost certainly part of the solution. Pausing to take a fresh look at what the best answer is for California’s communities, farms and the environment is a smart move at this time.”

Maurice Hall, Associate VP, Ecosystems – Water

From John McManus at the Golden Gate Salmon Association:

“We are grateful to Governor Newsom and his team for the steps taken today.  As a result, we’re more hopeful for the future of the salmon runs we rely on to feed our families and keep our communities whole.  We’re more hopeful that California’s incredible salmon runs, natural resources, and environment might have a better chance to heal.

GGSA was party to a lawsuit challenging the twin tunnels and that suit may have played into the governor’s decision to call for a reset.  Salmon fishermen and women look forward to working with the governor’s team on ways forward that share the state’s precious water in ways that work better for everyone.”

John McManus
Golden Gate Salmon Association

From Congressman Jerry McNerney:

In response to Governor Newsom’s decision to halt the California WaterFix project, Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09) issued the following statement:

“I commend the governor on his thoughtful approach in deciding the future of water conveyance in California. Countless experts and reports have attested to the ecological and economic damage the twin tunnels would have inflicted on our region without any proof that it would solve California’s water problems. As a long-time opponent of the wasteful and ill-conceived tunnels, I’m looking forward to working with Governor Newsom and others on a comprehensive approach to a sustainable water future for California.”

From Jeffrey Kightlinger at the Metropolitan Water District:

“We are pleased that Gov. Newsom’s Administration has reaffirmed a strong commitment to modernize the state’s water delivery infrastructure with a single-tunnel project in the Delta. We will work with the administration to expeditiously advance a project that is long overdue to both meet the water reliability needs of the state and minimize impacts to the communities and ecology of the Delta.

“Governor Newsom and Natural Resources Secretary Crowfoot recognize that the status quo in the Delta is simply not an option. New conveyance is essential. The current system is already outdated and vulnerable; climate change will further stress it with a future of sea level rise and increasingly intense floods and droughts. We must work together to update California’s infrastructure and make our water supply more climate resilient.”

From the Municipal Water District of Orange County:

The Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) Board President, Brett R. Barbre issues the following statement in response to the Newsom Administration’s executive order advancing a single tunnel conveyance solution for the Bay Delta.

“We are relieved that the Governor is committed to the long overdue completion of the State Water Project. However, we encourage Governor Newsom to take advantage of more than a decade’s worth of careful scientific analysis and a quarter of a billion dollars spent to identify the best solution for all of California. The twin tunnel California WaterFix is the best investment we can make in the future of our State. Two-tunnels is the best way to achieve dual benefit of reliable water conveyance and protecting the environment in the Delta.”

From Doug Obegi for the Natural Resources Defense Council:

““Over the last decade, Delta communities, fishermen, and conservation groups have risen up to take a stand against the WaterFix project to protect the health of the Bay-Delta estuary. Today’s announcement appears to mark the successful end of that fight. We now look forward to working with the Newsom Administration on sustainable water solutions that will protect the economy and the environment.”

More on Doug’s blog here.

From Barbara Barrigan-Parilla at Restore the Delta:

“We are extremely pleased that the Department of Water Resources has withdrawn its application for the twin tunnels project. We are relieved that our coalition’s critique of CA WaterFix made before the State Water Resources Control Board was taken seriously. We support a portfolio approach to solving California’s water challenges. We will collaborate and participate in as many processes as possible, and we will support other communities in California working on regional water solutions. Naturally, as Delta people we don’t care for tunnels, but we look forward to engaging in an honest and transparent public process that helps move us towards the co-equal goals of the Delta Reform Act of 2009, including reducing reliance on the Delta.”

From Save the California Delta Alliance:

Save the California Delta Alliance reacted to the Newsom Administration’s announcement today that it will be abandoning the California Waterfix Project, also known as the Delta Twin Tunnels, with relief and gratitude that the California Delta will be spared from destruction by the ill-conceived water diversion plan.

Today, California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth rescinded the Department’s approvals of the project, withdrew certification of the project environmental impact report, and withdrew its application for approval before the California State Water Resources Control Board. The California WaterFix project is now officially dead.

The gigantic water diversion tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter, were the pet project of former Governor Jerry Brown. The twin tunnels, as envisioned by the Brown Administration’s plan, would have drained up to half the flow of the Sacramento River, diverting it to the Central Valley for irrigation and to southern California for urban use.

“The twin-tunnels would have ruined the Delta as we know it,” said Delta Alliance Board President Karen Mann, who resides i

n the Delta community of Discovery Bay. “Finally, after years of battling this water grab, common sense has prevailed,” Mann said.

Along with the announcement nixing the WaterFix Project, Governor Newsom issued an
executive order establishing a task force of state agencies to come up with a “water resilience portfolio” to meet California’s water needs for the twenty-first century.

A “portfolio” approach refers to deploying multiple complimentary initiatives to meet water supply needs, including water conservation, water recycling, and more efficient management of the state’s vast water supply network.

Delta Alliance and other stakeholders have long criticized the California WaterFix for its single focus build-the-tunnels engineering approach. “We have consistently raised the need for a portfolio approach, to incorporate conservation and better water management, throughout this process,” said Delta Alliance lawyer Michael Brodsky.

Click here to continue reading.
Delta Alliance’s lawsuit to set aside the project approvals for the WaterFix Project, filed in Sacramento Superior Court in 2017, argued that the project violated state environmental laws because of the myopic focus on a single engineering element, the tunnels.

“We argued that Delta solutions must be based on a portfolio approach,” said Brodsky. The new Governor apparently understands this and we are encouraged by the executive order’s emphasis
on portfolio solutions,” added Brodsky.

In tandem with the cancelation of WaterFix, the Newsom Administration announced that it would pursue a scaled down single-tunnel project as part of the resilience portfolio. However, the level of commitment to actually building a tunnel project in the Delta is unclear.

The Governor’s executive order states that “current planning to modernize conveyance through the Bay Delta with a new single tunnel project” is one of a half dozen or so initiatives that state agencies shall “inventory and assess.”

“They have certainly taken any tunnel project off of the immediate to do list. They had groundbreaking ceremonies already scheduled for WaterFix,” said Brodsky. By starting the environmental review and permitting process over from scratch, any approval of a tunnel project is now three or more years away.

“If the state wanted to build a tunnel forthwith, rescinding the approvals for WaterFix would not be the way to do it,” Brodsky added.

In reaction to the single-tunnel provision, Delta Alliance Board President Karen Mann said, “We must remain diligent regarding the planning process and the future of the California Delta.”

With an eye on both the death of WaterFix and the new single-tunnel possibility, Delta Alliance
member and Delta riverboat captain, Frank Morgan said, “Finally some welcome news, so I will be storing my “STOP THE TUNNELS” sign, however it will remain readily available if needed in the future!”

“Our relief to hear of the rescinding of the current California WaterFix plan is enormous,” said Delta Alliance Board member and resident of the Delta island community of Bethel Island,Jamie Bolt. “We hold out hope that the next plan presented by the state is transparent and mutually beneficial for all,” added Bolt.

Critics of the tunnel plan have long pointed out that the California Delta is already in a state of crisis, near ecological collapse, due to over-diversion of fresh water. “Diverting more water and diverting at a point further upstream, as the tunnels would have done, would have only made things worse for the environment. Much worse,” said former Delta Alliance Board President and long-time tunnels foe, Jan McCleery.

The twin tunnel project was approved by the Brown Administration in July of 2017. However, it never received a key permit from the State Water Resources Control Board, despite three years of often contentious hearings. Dozens of lawsuits–still pending in state and federal court–also challenged the 2017 green light from the Brown Administration. These lawsuits will likely be dismissed as the project approvals have been rescinded and there is no longer an approved project to sue over.
The tunnel project first began to unravel In December of 2018. The California Department of Water Resources was forced then to withdraw its submission of the tunnel plan to a key regulator, the Delta Stewardship Council, after Delta Alliance and other environmental organizations, objected to the project in front of the Council.

One of Delta Alliance’s key objections was to the brutal construction impacts that prolonged construction activities would have wrought on small Delta towns, including Clarksburg and Hood, which were at ground central for construction activities.
When it became obvious the Council would vote to disapprove the project as it was then configured, DWR withdrew the application and said it would make revisions, rather than suffer an outright defeat. At the hearings, several Council members asked pointed questions of DWR about the construction impacts on Delta communities. The application was never resubmitted to the Council.

“Governor Newsome has now recognized the need to take the impacts on Delta communities seriously and has signaled that he will engage Delta communities in the resilience portfolio planning process,” said Brodsky.

Setting the stage for today’s announcement in his State of the State address in February of 2019, the newly elected Governor announced that he did not support the twin tunnel project as conceived by the Brown Administration. He indicated at that time that he would support a single tunnel coupled with other measures, such as water conservation and water recycling.
The California Delta is the largest and most ecologically important estuary on the west coast of the Americas. The Delta consists of eleven hundred miles of inland rivers and sloughs, which empty into San Francisco Bay. The Delta supports many fish and wildlife species, including the endangered Delta smelt. Two-thirds of California’s salmon pass through the Bay-Delta system.

“The Delta is an ecological treasure and a boating and recreation wonderland,” said Bill Wells, Delta Alliance Board Member and Executive Director of the Delta Chambers and Visitors Bureau based in the Delta riverfront community of Rio Vista. “I’ll be dammed if we were going to let the tunnels destroy the Delta without a fight, and the fight was worth it,” said Wells.
Save the California Delta Alliance, based in the Delta waterfront community of Discovery Bay and with hundreds of grass roots members who live, work, and recreate in the Delta, has been opposing the tunnel project in the administrative process and in court for many years.

In addition to the ecological damage of removing the fresh water source from the Delta and construction impacts on Delta communities, Delta Alliance has strenuously objected to the massive construction impacts of building the two huge tunnels through the heart of the Delta’s prime recreation areas on boating and recreation in the Delta.

From Charles Wilson at the Southern California Water Coalition:

“Today’s announcement demonstrated that under the Governor’s leadership, this administration remains committed to addressing California’s complex water challenges. By supporting a modern conveyance solution in the Delta, the Newsom administration is taking the much-needed action to secure California’s backbone source, protecting our precious water supplies against the increasing impacts of climate change and the uncertain threats of natural disaster.

This is no longer an either-or conversation. California needs a Delta tunnel and continued dedication to and investments in local supply projects. We need to kick this project into high-gear to secure a resilient water supply for generations.”

Charles Wilson
Executive Director
Southern California Water Coalition

From Jennifer Pierre at the State Water Contractors:

“We’re grateful that the Newsom Administration recognizes that a modern, conveyance solution in the Delta that moves forward now is a necessary part of the equation — ensuring that California’s water supply management is responsive to the imminent impacts of climate change and devastating threats of earthquake. California now has a renewed sense of urgency to advance the design and planning of a tunnel project that addresses what we’ve all known for decades: the status quo is completely unacceptable.

The State Water Contractors have developed successful local and regional projects to diversify and build out our water supply, but these projects are not a replacement for a statewide solution that will create a more resilient and sustainable California. We need to do it all, and we stand by the Newsom Administration in its commitment and dedication to implementing a multi-faceted solution that includes a Delta tunnel.”

Jennifer Pierre
General Manager
State Water Contractors

From Senator Henry Stern:

Senator Henry Stern, Chair of the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee, today issued the following statement in response to Governor Newsom’s single tunnel announcement:

“In 2009, we passed the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009.  Ten years later, we have made little real progress in achieving the ‘co-equal goals’ of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem, while protecting and enhancing the Delta as an evolving place.

I applaud the Governor for recognizing that it is time for a reset and endorse his single tunnel approach for new conveyance.  However, time is of the essence.  I encourage all parties to work constructively and diligently towards developing and constructing a conveyance project we can all support.”

From Chair Linda J. LeZotte of the Valley Water (formerly Santa Clara Valley Water District):

I am pleased to learn of Governor Newsom’s direction to modernize the Delta water system. The rightsized project will fulfill the state’s desire to improve the infrastructure that carries water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
In October of 2017, Valley Water’s Board of Directors voted to support a project of the size and scope consistent with the Governor’s new direction.

Because as much as 55 percent of the water our county uses each year is drawn from the Delta or its tributaries, improving its health is important to Santa Clara County. Increasing stresses on the Delta infrastructure and ecosystem have led to greater restrictions on when water can move through the Delta to our county and others.
We all know something needs to be done to shore up the Delta so it can be resilient for future generations. We support Governor Newsom and his administration in their efforts to do what’s best for the Delta ecosystem and the people of California.

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