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Latest Bay Delta Conservation Plan Proposal Is Still “Fatally Flawed”
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Mar 14th, 2013 4:00 PM
"Why would we use two and a half times the water to grow an almond in the west side of the Valley than is required to grow an almond in Butte County?” asked Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “The ‘tunnels’ represent more than simply a transfer of good quality water around the Delta. They also represent the largest transfer of private wealth in our history.”

Photo of Governor Jerry Brown, flanked by Natural Resources Secretary John Laird and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, announcing the release of his peripheral tunnels plan on July 25, 2012 in Sacramento. Photo by Dan Bacher.
Latest Bay Delta Conservation Plan Proposal Is Still “Fatally Flawed”

by Dan Bacher

The Brown administration on March 14 released the first four of 12 chapters of the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, drawing strong criticism from Delta advocates that the plan is "fatally flawed."

State officials claim the plan will serve the co-equal goals of "ecosystem restoration" and "water supply reliability," while plan opponents say the construction of the twin tunnels would be a "death sentence" for the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

According to a news release from the California Natural Resources Agency, "The comprehensive plan is the Brown administration’s proposal for new water intakes and tunnels and habitat restoration to reverse the decline of native fish populations in the Delta and provide reliable water deliveries for two-thirds of California’s population and much of the state’s agricultural economy.”

On July 25, 2012, Governor Brown and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced revisions to the plan, including what they claimed was a 40 percent reduction in the capacity of proposed new water diversion intakes along the Sacramento River. On the same day, a coalition of family farmers, Indian Tribes, Delta residents, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, conservationists, environmental justice advocates and elected officials held a rally at the State Capitol to oppose the plan to build the peripheral tunnels.

Agency officials said the full plan will be released in three stages over the coming weeks and accompanied by public meetings in West Sacramento to allow interested citizens to learn about the plan. The complete plan and an accompanying Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report will be released for formal public comment later this year.

“The newly-released documents describe in detail the more than 200 specific biological goals and objectives that will guide implementation of the plan over coming decades so that it achieves the dual goals of healthier, more resilient populations of native fish and wildlife while at the same time improving water supply reliability,” the agency stated.

The newly-released chapters also detail the proposed operation of a new system of pumping plants and tunnels, including three intake points, to carry water from the Delta to agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California water agencies.

The agency said the tunnels would "secure water deliveries" against potential disasters, such as a flood or earthquake.

“A new water project diversion point on the Sacramento River near Sacramento and 35 miles of underground tunnels would secure water deliveries against catastrophe; at any time, a flood or earthquake could inundate the below-sea-level islands in the interior Delta and draw salt water toward the existing south Delta pumping plants, which would have to be shut down to avoid contamination," the agency said.

"We are making real progress," claimed California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. “We are now closer than ever to finally safeguarding a water supply critical to California's future and restoring vitality and resiliency to the Delta ecosystem."

To read the released documents go to:

Delta advocates weren't impressed by the release of the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan documents.

Restore the Delta (RTD), a coalition opposed to the Brown administration’s rush to construct massive peripheral tunnels to take millions of acre-feet of water from the Delta, said the revised BDCP proposal “mainly to benefit unsustainable mega-farms on the west side of the Central Valley,” is still “fatally flawed.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, RTD executive director, said, “In its rush to build a project that would exterminate salmon runs, destroy sustainable family farms and saddle taxpayers with tens of billions in debt, mainly to benefit a small number of huge corporate agribusinesses on the west side of the Central Valley, the Administration has yet to complete a valid cost-benefit analysis of its Tunnels and seriously examine alternative solutions.”

She said BDCP is “rigging” a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal by refusing to include alternatives, and excluding some costs that would fall on water ratepayers. How much will rates need to increase if this project moves forward?

“This project will still cost billions upon billions of dollars to give ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidized water to corporate agriculture and real estate developers to make millions upon millions in profits,” explained Barrigan-Parrilla. “California will not go dry without these tunnels. There are no guarantees that southern California residents will even receive more water.”

Barrigan-Parrilla said the proposal takes a “build it now, figure it out later” approach. “But after billions are spent building new tunnels, the pressure would be overwhelming to maximize water exports no matter the consequences on Delta communities and fisheries.”

Two-thirds of Delta water exports go to support 0.3-0.4% of the California economy (GDP) on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Less than a third goes to areas representing two-thirds of the state’s population and economy, according to Barrigan-Parrilla.

“Why would anyone choose to sacrifice 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?" asked Barrigan-Parrilla. "Why would we use two and a half times the water to grow an almond in the west side of the Valley than is required to grow an almond in Butte County?”

“The ‘tunnels’ represent more than simply a transfer of good quality water around the Delta. They also represent the largest transfer of private wealth in our history,” she stated.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and other fishing groups also slammed the proposal for the disastrous impact it would have on Central Valley salmon and other fish populations.

“The administration’s proposal continues to fail to incorporate what’s now the overwhelming scientific consensus that fish in the Estuary need more fresh water," said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. "Even though the number of intakes has been reduced from 5 to 3, the total amount of water that can be pumped from the Delta is virtually the same. Decisions on how much water would be pumped would be made only after tens of billions of dollars are spent on the intakes and tunnels. Pressure would be unstoppable to over-pump the Delta."

Jennings added, “BDCP is a recipe for ecological disaster. California is in a water crisis because the State has over-promised, over-allocated, wasted and inequitably distributed scarce water resources. The Delta is in a biological meltdown because the estuary has been deprived of more than half of its historical water flow; its hydrograph has been turned on its head and its waterways used as sewers.

“This project threatens the collapse of Delta and longfin smelt; American and threadfin shad; splittail; Fall, late-Fall, Winter and Spring runs of salmon; steelhead, green and white sturgeon, striped and largemouth bass; as well as the lower tropic levels that comprise the food chain. BDCP is predicated on taking more water from or around the estuary," he explained.

"And taking more water from it cannot restore an ecosystem that is hemorrhaging because of a lack of flow. The National Research Council, the Independent Science Board, NGO scientists and the fishery agencies agree that the project would hasten extinction rather than restoring species. Faced with overwhelming criticism, BDCP went back to the drawing boards and came forth with the desperate idea of building it now and figuring out how to operate it later,” added Jennings.

“As presently outlined, BDCP is not a path to restoration – it’s a death sentence for one of the world’s great estuaries," Jennings emphasized

RTD questions how independent the science behind the BDCP will be. Even the Delta Independent Science Board told the Delta Stewardship Council that it is concerned that the BDCP “favors combat science” and would likely “yield further fragmentation in Delta science and decision-making.”

RTD also noted that BDCP is still not considering any alternatives for meeting the coequal goals except the peripheral tunnels, although there are several, including one by the Environmental Water Caucus, that could be evaluated

"The common people will pay for the tunnels and a few people will make millions," summed up Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, who is fighting to stop the raising of Shasta Dam and the construction of the peripheral tunnels. "It will turn a once pristine waterway into a sewer pipe. It will be bad for the fish, the ocean and the people of California."

Millions of fish would continue to be killed in the state and federal water export pumps if the peripheral tunnels proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan were built, according to a groundbreaking new white paper released by the California Sportfishing Alliance and Restore the Delta on March 7. To read the full paper, go to:

For information about Restore the Delta, go to