Thirty-eight groups demand return to “policy before plumbing”
by Dan Bacher
Thirty-eight California fishing, environmental and consumer advocacy organizations on June 27 demanded that the Obama administration delay the imminent announcement of a peripheral canal or tunnel proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) until “fundamental details” are made available.
“The Departments of Interior and Commerce are poised to join with the State of California to recommend the construction of a multi-billion dollar plumbing project before defining how much it will cost, how it will be operated, or how much water it will produce without environmental damage,” the groups wrote in a joint letter to Ken Salazar, Secretary of Interior, and Rebecca Blank, Secretary of Commerce.
Organizations signing the letter include the Sierra Club, Environmental Water Caucus, Friends of the River, Planning and Conservation League, Restore the Delta (RTD), Food and Water Watch, Golden Gate Salmon Association, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, California Water Impact Network, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Salmon Water Now, Save the American River, Water for Fish, California Striped Bass Association and Southern California Watershed Alliance.
The groups wrote, “The State of California proposes construction of two world-record-size tunnels capable of taking nearly all of the average freshwater flow of the Sacramento River – 15,000 cubic feet per second – away from the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary.”
“The proposed double tunnel project is designed to give a federal assurance of water to south of the Delta irrigators. As proposed the plan will give a federal guarantee of increased water to be taken from the San Francisco Bay Delta estuary. This proposed higher diversion will create chronic drought conditions and environmental devastation in the estuary,” they said.
The letter ask seven questions of the Obama administration officials beginning with: 1. “How much will it really cost?”
“We’re being told that just the record size tunnels project costs are estimated at least $12.691 billion, but this does not include operation and maintenance which ups the cost to $17 billion, add in financing and the costs reach $51 billion according to BDCP documents. [See Chapter 8 BDCP documents (p. 8-86 & p. 8-88)]. Governor Brown estimates the costs at $14 billion,” the groups stated.
The other questions are:
2. “Who pays for it? Who REALLY pays for it? And the impacts?
3. How much “new” water will be produced annually? 250,000 AF? 500,000 AF? 1 MAF? 1.5 MAF?
4. When will this “NEW” found water be available – 2018? 2020? 2023? 2026? 2030? 2050? What is the date of the first drop of water from completed construction?
5. How will this “new” water pie be divided? Who gets what? How and when will that be determined?
6. What are the upstream impacts of this project on flows, temperatures, fisheries protection and reservoir operations?
7. Scientists report that climate disruption will impact California – its coastline, sea level, weather patterns, precipitation rates and a growing list of other conditions. The current proposed plan indicates climate assumptions will be “forthcoming.” Can you guarantee that multi-billion dollar expenditures for plumbing being recommended will have meaningful utility in 2020, 2030, 2050, and beyond?”
The groups agreed with the twelve northern California lawmakers who called on Obama administration officials Friday to delay the “imminent announcement” of what they described as an an “expensive and potentially damaging water diversion project” until more details of the plan are made available. (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2012/06/23/lawmakers-demand-return-to-“policy-before-plumbing”-on-delta-plan/)
The California Democrats warned that the unpopular plan to build a peripheral canal or tunnel – as described in a recent briefing in Washington and public meeting in Sacramento – “raises far more questions than it answers, and appears to turn the maxim of ‘policy before plumbing’ on its head.”
The construction of the peripheral canal or tunnel proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) would hasten the extinction of Central Valley chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species, according to studies by independent and agency scientists alike. Both the Brown and Obama administrations are currently fast-tracking this government boondoggle, a project that aims to “restore” the Delta by draining it.
The complete text of the groups’ letter is available at http://www.restorethedelta.org