The administration of Governor Jerry Brown has constantly touted the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels as a visionary, ambitious project to accomplish the “co-equal goals” of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability, while tunnel opponents say the project will lead to the death of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The project proposes to divert a large proportion of the Sacramento River’s flow into two 35-mile tunnels beneath the delta.
Delta advocates fear the construction of the tunnels will lead to the extinction of Central Valley chinook salmon, steelhead, delta smelt and other imperiled fish species that have declined dramatically due to massive water exports to corporate agribusiness, the oil industry and Southern California water agencies. Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, described the plan as “a desperate scheme to perpetuate an unsustainable status quo that enriches a few powerful water brokers at the expense of reliable water supplies, Delta communities and healthy fisheries.”
“It refuses to evaluate reasonable alternatives that would restore the delta ecosystem while ensuring southern California water security at far lower cost,” Jennings said. “[The plan] is a classic shell game to benefit special interests and, if implemented, would represent a death sentence for one of the world’s great estuaries.”
The State Water Resources Board has already concluded that delta outflows must be significantly increased in order to protect public trust resources, Jennings said. “It rejected an analysis of how much water the estuary needs in order to survive as a functioning ecosystem—because increased outflow translates to reduced exports,” he said. “You can’t restore an estuary hemorrhaging from lack of flow by stealing more fresh water from it.”
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, sums up the destructive impact of the tunnels: “The peripheral tunnels will kill the delta, SF Bay and delta fisheries and delta farms. We call upon the governor to abandon this flawed project that was rejected by California voters in 1982.” She says two-thirds of delta water exports go to support only 0.3 to 0.4 percent of the California economy on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
“Why would the state choose to sacrifice sustainable family farms on prime farmland in the delta in order to send subsidized water to grow subsidized crops on the impaired soils of west side plantations, whose owners live in Pacific Heights and Beverly Hills?” Barrigan-Parrilla asked. “We cannot find one river system that’s ever been restored by having its water removed from it.”
I asked Jerry Meral, the deputy director of the Natural Resources Agency, two questions at a Bay Delta Plan public meeting on March 20. First, can you give one example from U.S. or world history in which the construction of a diversion canal or tunnel has led to taking less rather than more water out of an ecosystem? Second, can you give one example in which the construction of a diversion canal or tunnel has led to the restoration of an ecosystem?
Neither Meral no plan officials could answer these questions, because they know the construction of the tunnels will ultimately lead to more water being taken out of the ecosystem, not less, resulting in that ecosystem’s ultimate destruction.