Delta Tunnel Impacts on SF Bay-Delta Water Quality: 5 Questions Jerry Brown Doesn’t Want You to Ask

For Release: August 28, 2015
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta, 209-479-2053 [email protected], Twitter: @RestoretheDelta

View this release at our main website or in PDF format


Five Questions Jerry Brown Doesn’t Want You to Ask


Operation of the proposed Delta tunnels, according to the Department of Water Resources' recirculated Environmental Impact Report, will reduce essential fresh water flows through the Delta to Suisun Bay and San Francisco Bay. Nonetheless, the State Water Resources Control Board has begun the permitting process to change the point where water will be diverted into the tunnels. This significant reduction in Sacramento River flows will degrade Delta and Suisun Marsh water quality because the Tunnels would isolate better quality Sacramento River water from the rest of the Delta, increasing the percentage of water flowing into the estuary from the polluted San Joaquin River. The project is sold to the public as improving water quality, but tunnel proponents never explain that the benefits are solely for San Joaquin Valley agribusiness and the Metropolitan Water District, while the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary takes all the negative impacts. That is why these questions need to be asked about water quality.

How will the State and Federal Water Projects using the tunnels mitigate for these salinity impacts on fisheries, wildlife, drinking water supplies, and agricultural production?

According to the new Environmental Impact Report (EIR/EIS) the reductions in fresh water flows will double outright violations of salinity standards along the San Joaquin River, and the lower Sacramento River, in addition to a 26 to 60 percent increase of salinity in habitat for fish, vegetation, and agricultural soils throughout Suisun Marsh.

Harmful Algal Blooms
How will the State and Federal Water Projects using the tunnels mitigate for these potentially serious water quality, public health threat/public health impacts resulting from harmful algal blooms?

Stagnant water in the Delta will increase because of Tunnel operations and climate change could bring more hot days. DWR's recirculated Tunnels EIR/EIS acknowledges that this will increase incidence of harmful algal blooms. The most common blue-green algae species in the Bay-Delta Estuary is called Microcystis, and in 2014 DWR scientists found Microcystis late summer algal blooms running beyond October into December. Toxins from Microcystis blooms are deadly to wildlife, dogs, and human beings, and exposure can cause liver cancer in humans. It is a dangerous ecological and public health threat. The EIR/EIS for the Delta tunnels, it states, “It is possible that increases in the frequency, magnitude, and geographic extent of of Microcystis blooms in the Delta would occur relative to existing conditions” in comparison to the future condition of the Delta without Delta Tunnels.

Group A Pesticides (human carcinogens)
How will the State and Federal Water Projects using the tunnels mitigate for these serious water quality/public health impacts from Group A Pesticides?

The San Joaquin River is an impaired water body for chlorpyrifos, diazinon, diuron, DDT, and Group A pesticides (human carcinogens) under the Clean Water Act. Increasing that river’s flow into the Delta will result in more concentrated pesticides reaching central and western Delta water ways from the San Joaquin, with longer residence times of these pesticides. The end result: the Bay-Delta Estuary would be left with a worsening dangerous pesticide “cocktail” supplied by the San Joaquin River’s agricultural effluent.

Methyl Mercury
How will the State and Federal Water Projects mitigate for MeHg bioaccumulation within the Delta with operation of the tunnels? And how will they protect people, fish, and wildlife from exposure to MeHg?

Mercury is a toxic legacy pollutant left over from the Gold Rush. It continues to lurk in Bay and Delta sediments. Disturbance of sediments can stir up mercury so it enters Delta food webs. Tens of thousands of Bay-Delta residents fish the estuary for sustenance, and run the risk presently of eating fish contaminated with mercury. In its organic form “methyl mercury” (MeHg) is highly toxic and can pose a variety of human health risks. Last year’s EIR provided no mitigation method at all, just a list of “adaptive management” research issues to be handled later. The implied message is to “trust us” to build the Delta Tunnels project and BDCP will handle this problem later. For both tunnels construction and habitat restoration work in and around the Bay-Delta Estuary, DWR and its partners would have to handle MeHg contamination on a case-by-case basis. The new EIR/EIS shows fish tissue concentrations at several estuary locations would still be more than 1.5 to 2 times the USEPA’s mercury guidance concentration. This new analysis, however does not reflect California EcoRestore’s habitat restoration efforts, which cumulatively can be expected to have impacts similar to those identified last year for the Tunnels and the Bay Conservation Plan last year.

How will the State and Federal Water Projects using the tunnels mitigate for an increase of selenium in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary? Especially if selenium mitigation efforts fail or are weakened in the San Joaquin Valley?

Water exported from the Delta via the tunnels would increase the frequency and reliability with which irrigation water would be delivered and applied to agricultural lands in the western San Joaquin Valley lands where the soils have naturally-occurring high levels of selenium. At just slightly elevated levels, selenium becomes actively poisonous. As concentrations rise further, selenium can cause embryonic defects, reproductive problems, and death in vertebrate animals. Selenium-tainted agricultural drainage from these same San Joaquin Valley lands returns to the San Joaquin River and eventually to the Delta. In the National Research Council’s 2012 report on Bay-Delta sustainable water, the Council wrote: …Infrastructure changes in the delta such as construction of an isolated facility could result in the export of more Sacramento River water to the south, which would allow more selenium-rich San Joaquin River water to enter the bay. The solutions to selenium contamination must be found within the Central Valley and the risks from selenium to the bay are an important consideration in any infrastructure changes that affect how San Joaquin River water gets to the bay.”  

A report by our policy analyst on these five questions is available at FAQs & Research under "Handouts & Research Documents."


Pro-Tunnel Agencies Rush Through Permits Despite Open Public Comment Period

For Release: August 27, 2015
Contact: Brian Smith, 415-320-9384[email protected] \\ Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta, 209-479-2053 [email protected], Twitter: @RestoretheDelta \\ Osha Merserve, Delta Water Rights attorney, 916-425-9914

State and Feds Steamroll Ahead Despite Open Public Comment Period
“Change Petition” Filed for New Diversion Points from Sacramento River

Sacramento, CA – The California Department of Water Resources and the United States Bureau of Reclamation today announced that they have jointly submitted permit requests to add three additional points of water diversion from the Sacramento River to supply the State Water Project and Central Valley Project.

Read the petition here.

The three intakes would each have a capacity of 3,000 cubic feet per second. That potential 9,000cfs is a shocking amount of water exports considering that TODAY, the Sacramento is so dry it occasionally runs backward at Freeport station at high tide!

The exported water would not be allowed to flow through the Delta where it is needed for farming, drinking water, and the protection of endangered species like the Chinook Salmon and the Greater Sandhill Crane. The water would instead be sent in two 30-mile-long, 40-foot diameter tunnels beneath the Delta directly to the state and federal projects, then conveyed to large corporate farm operations in the southern San Joaquin Valley and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Calling this step an “important milestone for the project” the agencies have begun the process of clearing the way for the Delta Tunnels, despite the fact that the EIR/EIS on the proposed project is open for public comment until October 30, 2015.

“This application looks like a rush job, it’s not even filled out completely,” said Osha Merserve, a Delta water rights attorney. “The petition just says ‘see EIR’ for much of the basic info. Good luck finding that in the 48,000 pages of cross-referenced material with multiple errata. This application is a real sales pitch and it’s full of holes.”

“It’s astounding these agencies continue to steamroll the tunnels project as if federal permits won’t again be rejected on environmental grounds, or that water district funding won’t dry up when they realize what a boondoggle the tunnels are,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta.

“This petition seeks to permit the construction of the tunnels before the required consideration of the water quality impacts on the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. This permit application, along with the recent documents we revealed showing plans to take hundreds of Delta farms through eminent domain, show these agencies consider the democratic process is just a side show because Governor Jerry Brown and corporate interests in Southern California are demanding action. The process has become profoundly anti-democratic,” added Barrigan-Parrilla.



Media Release: Neither Gov. Brown or Carly Fiorina Gets it Right on Water

For Immediate Release: August 24, 2015 
Contact: Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053 [email protected]; Twitter:@RestoretheDelta

Tunnels Opponents Respond to Gov. Brown and Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina’s Exchange Regarding California Water Management, Delta Tunnels, and Climate Change On Meet the Press

STOCKTON, CA- Restore the Delta (RTD), the leading opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build massive underground water tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom sustainable farms, salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today responded to Gov. Brown’s statement and Carly Fiorina’s comments regarding the problems with drought management, conveyance, and dams in California in their interviews with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press.

Restore the Delta’s Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla responded to the entire exchange with the following statement.

To see the Meet the Press segment, click here

“Clearly, Carly Fiorina’s statement about the need for new conveyance and reservoirs to solve California’s water challenge, and Governor Brown’s video response to her reveal how out of touch both the Governor and Ms. Fiorina are with what California truly needs to manage increasing droughts successfully.

“Ms. Fiorina believes the big industrial agriculture trope that more reservoirs and new Delta conveyance will stop water from “being wasted” to the ocean.  Never mind that science tells us that snow pack will decrease with warmer temperatures in California, thereby reducing water for storage Sierra rim dams throughout the state, or that according to the environmental impact report for the Delta tunnels, the tunnels will be dry about 52% of the time. Never mind that fisheries from Santa Barbara to Southern Washington and coastal communities, the four million people living in the five Delta counties, Delta farms, and that many more millions of residents in the Bay Area are tied to a healthy San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. Never mind that scientists have reached consensus that the estuary needs more fresh water flows if it is going to regain its health and be sustained, not more water taken from it through the Delta tunnels as stated in the EIR for the Delta tunnels project.

“Governor Brown, on the other hand, gets it only half right when he says building a dam won’t do a thing about climate change, but, forgets to apply the same logic to the construction of the Delta tunnels. Like Ms. Fiorina, Governor Brown needs to listen to NRDC’s Dr. Christina Swanson’s statement from last week to the State Senate Oversight Committee regarding the Delta tunnels.  Maybe he would learn that the Sacramento basin, the source of the water for the Delta tunnels, will be effected by climate change with regard to loss of snow pack and volatility of water supply.

“Getting water management right in a changing climate is essential for securing California’s future.  The billions of dollars that Governor Brown wants to waste on the construction of the Delta tunnels should be spent on broad based water recycling, conservation, storm water capture, water technology, and groundwater recharge programs.

“It is the nature of rivers to flow to the ocean; Sacramento River flows protect the environment and economies for millions of west coast residents.  The only thing being wasted is money and time by Governor Brown. He and Ms. Fiorina are too busy using the drought for political theater instead of leading the way for the types of sensible planning that will restore the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas while securing California’s environmental and economic future.”

To see NRDC’s Dr. Christina Swanson’s testimony to the California Senate Oversight Committee on climate change and the Delta Tunnels, click here.  To watch the full hearing (which we highly recommend), click here


1 comment

Delta Tunnel news: In case you missed it 8/20/2015

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Brian Smith, 415-320-9384, [email protected]
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, 209-479-2053, [email protected]

In Case You Missed It…
News of Interest

Editorial: Twin tunnels plan sounds worse each day – Chico ER
Every morsel of information released, discovered or leaked lately about Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels plan makes the project sound worse. Every new tidbit makes us wonder how and why this boondoggle is even a possibility.

California to Seize Farms for Jerry Brown’s Water Tunnels  – Breitbart
According to documents obtained by environmental group Restore the Delta, state water exporters and the Delta Design Construction Enterprise (DCE) division of the Department of Water Resources are planning to acquire 300 pieces of land from Delta farms to ensure right of way for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan tunnel project. ….
…. In a statement, Restore the Delta executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parilla blasted the “arrogance” of state officials for using eminent domain to acquire farmers’ land.

Audio: California Plans to Seize Delta Farms for Tunnels – KPFA Berkeley
Featuring Restore the Delta executive director, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. State contractors have plans to seize as many as 300 farms in the delta by eminent domain to clear the way for twin water tunnels proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. That's according to documents obtained by opponents of the tunnels. Mark Mericle has more.

Experts at Senate Hearing Examine Unanswered Questions of Delta Tunnels Plan – Calitics
Whether the tunnels will be cost-effective was one of the questions discussed during the hearing. Fielding that question was Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research, University of the Pacific.
…. "The tunnels are not economically justified and are financially infeasible without a substantial taxpayer subsidy," testified Michael.

Delta Stewardship Council Looks At Conveyance, Storage, and Water Project Operations, Part 2: Environmental and Water Supplier Perspectives – Maven's Notebook
The language in the 2009 Delta Reform Act laid out a specific pathway for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to be included in the Delta Plan through a different pathway that was distinctly different from the consistency certification process the legislation specified for other projects in the Delta.  However, the legislation also specified certain conditions that the BDCP must meet: the most notable of those being that the BDCP be completed as a Natural Communities Conservation Plan.

Experts Examine Whether Delta Tunnels Proposal Is Good For California – Senator Lois Wolk's Press Release
“Today a panel of experts discussed unanswered questions about the massive Delta Tunnels proposal in an attempt to determine whether the proposal is good for California during an informational hearing of the Senate Select Committee on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, chaired by State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis).
…. “These are some of the basic questions that all Californians should expect to have answered prior to moving forward with a multi-billion dollar infrastructure proposal, the most expensive and controversial water infrastructure proposal in California history.”
Questions Remain When It Comes To Tunnel Plan The Reporter
State leaders and a panel of experts recently took the opportunity to discuss the unanswered questions about the massive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta Tunnels proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
….California Water Fix is Governor Brown’s third attempt to establish an unsustainable water conveyance plan for California,” Frazier said in a press release. “The Administration’s literal ‘tunnel vision’ has forced this proposal back to the drawing board several times, yet the glaring deficiencies in transparency, accountability and public oversight still remain. The Assembly and Senate have conducted multiple hearings to ensure that the tough questions and onerous details of this plan do not go unchecked. If California is to consider the implementation of such a large-scale project, it is critical that the Legislature insert itself in this process by carefully tracking and reviewing the proposal from all angles.”

Local Columns: LA’s twin grab for SJ Valley, Delta land & water – Manteca Bulletin 
…Just a year after slicing and dicing through family-owned farms and taking property with fast-lane eminent domain for the high speed rail to serve the wealthier Los Angeles-San Francisco business crowd, Sacramento is now preparing to seize 300 Delta farms as a precursor to robbing the Delta of the natural flow of Sacramento River water so it can be sucked into tunnels and the dumped near the Tracy pumps.

Californian farmers fear land being seized to make way for GIANT WATER TUNNELS –
California farmers have far more to fear than just the paralyzing drought that has gripped the state for more than five years. It has since been learned that state contractors are seeking to grab up as many as 300 farms in the California delta by eminent domain. They want the land for two massive water tunnels, which remain unapproved after being proposed by Governor Jerry Brown.

California plan calls for confiscating farmland to build controversial water tunnels – RT
….The plan would give landowners a 30-day period in which to consider and negotiate a one-time payment officer for their land, but it simultaneously allows officials to prepare to take the land by forced sale if owners declined to sell.

California plans taking farms for massive water tunnels – News10

California plans taking farms for massive water tunnels – KRON4



Our Comment at the Senate Hearing on Delta Tunnels 8/18/2015

PDF Version here.
Watch the hearing here at CalChannel.

Senate Select Committee on The Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta
Informational Hearing
Are the Tunnels Good for California?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Good morning. Thank you Chair Wolk and committee members. I am Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla with Restore the Delta. I represent over 25,000 Californians who want to see the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary restored for our children and future generations. Thousands of our members reside at ground zero for the proposed Delta tunnels project.

We are pleased with today’s oversight hearing. It is a first step. But we are calling on this committee, and the entire legislature to make oversight of the Delta tunnels their immediate and primary oversight priority.

According to its website: DWR’s mission is to manage the water resources of California to benefit the State’s people, and to protect, restore, and enhance the natural and human environments. It seems that this mission, however, does not apply to the people and wildlife of the Delta.

As reported by the Associated Press yesterday, a land acquisition plan for taking 300 parcels of productive Delta farms out of operation was not included in the revised draft EIR/EIS for the tunnels, but was a confidential document that had not seen the light of day until our colleagues acquired it through a Public Records Act request. This land acquisition plan states that 300 landowners will only be given 30-days-notice to sell their land before the state moves to immediate eminent domain proceedings.

Never mind that these parcels of land are California’s oldest family farms, many in production for 150 years & produce a $5.2 billion annual economy. This 160 page land acquisition plan was created for the Metropolitan Water District by a separate entity of policy contractors called the Design Construction Enterprise who are embedded within DWR via an $11.4 million no-bid contract.

It seems that we have two processes: a public comment period for the EIR and the propaganda behind the tunnels – and another process of what the project really is – hidden.

This committee needs to be asking a series of questions, like why was the land acquisition plan not included in the EIR for the project? Why is DWR handing out no-bid contracts for the oversight of the second largest public works project in the history of California to a contract firm without engineering qualifications? Why do Californians have to resort to public records act requests to find the truth about this project?

And then there is the EIR/EIR itself. From it, we need to be asking: Why are the significant water quality impacts of the project for the Bay and Delta buried in the appendix of its 48,000 pages? What about those public health impacts for the Delta? How will the tunnels help with drought if they are going to be dry 52% of the time and if the Delta watershed is oversubscribed five-fold in normal water years? How many fish will be saved by the experimental fish screens and new intakes not yet designed? Who is going to pay for the tunnels? And who is going to get the water?

Perhaps what I find most frustrating is that the Delta is always accused of not offering up a solution.

Restore the Delta has been advocating for the same solution for years. First, we need to reduce exports to a sustainable level from the Delta – as describe here by the prior panelists. Second, we need to fix the existing pumps and fish screens because they will still be in use 52% of the time. Third, we need to invest in recycling, storm water capture, conservation – NRDC has done that work – we can make 7 million acre feet of water doing the real conservation work that California still has not done. Last, we have to deal with the oversubscription of water. We will need an eventual adjudication of water rights. We need to retire the drainage impaired lands in the San Joaquin Valley. With the five-fold over subscription of water there is no way around it. But we can do all these other things first and do what has been done in Colorado, New Mexico, and Idaho. Water conservation will get us through while we go through the process.

Thank you.