May 6, 2016

At California Rivers Day, tell our legislators to say ‘no’ to new dams

CARDAY 2016 INFO HALF SHEET v2 - w FOR logo.pub

California has over 1,400 named dams. All but two of our major rivers are dammed and most are dammed multiple times. Despite this, California’s current drought has been used to fuel a stampede for building still more dams. New dam proposals threaten several of the remaining free-running stretches on California rivers, including the upper San Joaquin, Merced, and McCloud.

Dams built in the last century were placed to get the “biggest bang for the buck” — while environmentally destructive, they may have made economic sense. Today all the “reasonable” dam sites have been filled. Dams currently being promoted generate very little “new” water. They make no economic sense, and the major beneficiaries (large agricultural companies) will not pay to build the dams or even annual dam operation costs. Building these new dams will continue the long history of building destructive dams with public funding so as to provide greatly subsidized water to the “water aristocracy”. This perpetuates a vicious cycle, as cheap water increases demand (irrigated acreage in California continues to expand despite the drought).

Our state has many effective and sustainable means to meet our water needs. Over a six-month period in 2015, California urban residents saved over one million acre-feet of water through conservation and improved water-use efficiency. That total is greater than the projected average annual yield from all the proposed dams  —dams that would cost over $8 billion!

Join Sierra Club and other environmental groups to let our legislators know we need to protect our rivers and say no to corporate welfare to build new dams. Come to Sacramento on May 18th for California Rivers Day.

For more information contact heinrich.albert at outlook.com or visit the California Rivers Day webpage.

Expanded Peninsula Watershed docent program will increase public access, protect vital water supply

The Crystal Springs Reservoir is part of the Peninsula Watershed, a vital water source for San Francisco and suburban water districts. Photo by David Hallock.

The Crystal Springs Reservoir is part of the Peninsula Watershed, a vital water source for San Francisco and suburban water districts. Photo by David Hallock, www.flickr.com/oruwu.

The Peninsula Watershed in central San Mateo County has the highest concentration of rare, threatened, and endangered species in the nine-county Bay Area — a truly remarkable fact considering the area’s proximity to highly developed urban areas. The 23,000 acres of the watershed lands are protected and managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) with the primary purpose of production, collection, and storage of the highest-quality water for the City and County of San Francisco and its suburban customers. In order to protect this precious water supply in an era of longer and more severe droughts, access to much of the area is restricted to a handful of well-used trails, except under the auspices of a docent program.

Under the docent program, volunteer guides lead hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians into watershed lands three days a week (You can learn more and sign up for a trip here). The docent program has increased public awareness and support for the watershed’s diverse natural habitats and wildlife while at the same time helping to prevent unauthorized off-trail use and trespassing. That in turn reduces the potential for catastrophic wildfires (the area has been designated a “hazardous fire area” by the California Department of Forestry) and degradation of water quality in the four reservoirs.

Mountain bicycle and other advocates are lobbying the PUC to consider opening remote areas of the Peninsula Watershed lands to unrestricted access — not only along the unpaved and unfenced service road on Fifield-Cahill Ridge, but also on numerous other interconnecting service roads and trails. Unfortunately, unrestricted access increases the likelihood of public health impacts, including fire risk and degraded water quality, as well as harm to habitats and wildlife.

Allowing uncontrolled access to the watershed’s remote areas would tremendously increase costs to taxpayers, as people will inevitably trespass into protected, sensitive areas. Fencing to prevent access would interrupt established wildlife migration corridors and would not deter all trespassers.

Rather than opening the area to unrestricted access and the risks associated with it, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups are calling for the successful, existing docent program to be expanded and upgraded. An excellent model for a well-managed and effective docent program is at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve on Stanford University lands south of Crystal Springs. A similar program could be instituted for the Watershed.

A number of Peninsula Watershed trails are already open every day to unrestricted access. The popular 16-mile Crystal Springs trail east of the reservoirs near Highway 280 serves over 325,000 people each year.

This is not the first time the San Francisco PUC has considered allowing unrestricted access in the watershed lands. In 2002, the PUC considered and ultimately rejected the idea due to serious concerns raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Health Services, and many environmental groups over water quality, fire, and wildlife. The docent program was created at that time to respond to the call for more public access. Now the docent program should be expanded and upgraded.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution affirming that the primary function of the watershed is protection of our water supply and preservation of natural resources, while allowing increased public access through an expanded docent program rather than uncontrolled access. The Sierra Club, Golden Gate and Sequoia Audubon Societies, California Native Plant Society’s Yerba Buena and Santa Clara County Chapters, and the Committee for Green Foothills all support this approach.

Lennie Roberts, San Mateo County legislative advocate, Committee for Green Foothills; Mike Ferreira, chair, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter; Arthur Feinstein, Executive Committee member, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter

A mega-marina for mega-yachts at Treasure Island?

The cove as it is now, with the marina tucked into the northeast corner and the dragon boating racecourse marked with lines.

The cove as it is now, with the marina tucked into the northeast corner and the dragon boating racecourse marked with lines.

A long dormant proposal by commercial developers to close off most of Clipper Cove at Treasure Island and convert the cove into a large luxury marina has moved off the back burner now that Island development is moving forward, prompting a campaign by local supporters to save the cove.

Clipper Cove is considered one of the Bay Area’s most valuable open-water resources, being one of the safest, most protected areas in the Bay for public recreation and boating instruction. Currently, Clipper Cove is home to youth sailing, disabled sailing, dragon boating, the Cal sailing team, Olympic class racing, keelboat raft-ups, kayaking, paddle boarding, high school and collegiate competition, and more.

The Cove is also home to the non-profit Treasure Island Sailing Center that every year puts over two thousand San Francisco public schools kids on the water — many for the first time ever.

2015 proposal submitted by the marina developers. The marina would be expanded several times over and moved out of the Cove’s NW corner, effectively closing off most of the cove.

2015 proposal submitted by the marina developers. The marina would be expanded several times over and moved out of the Cove’s NW corner, effectively closing off most of the cove.

The scale of the marina as currently proposed is much greater than can be accommodated without significant negative impacts on public access and use of the Cove, particularly on youth and community sailing. In a letter to the Treasure Island Development Authority, Bay Chapter  chair Becky Evans noted that the Club is also concerned about the potential impact on views of open water, potential restriction of space for anchor-outs, and detrimental impact on the eelgrass beds near the shore of Yerba Buena Island.

A look at the architectural drawings presented by the developers reveals a mega-marina designed for mega-yachts. Under the developer’s proposal, 372 slips would be built with an average slip size of 54 feet and two finger docks per slip. The marina would also provide docking for mega-yachts up to 175 feet in length. In contrast, South Beach Marina, a modern marina located adjacent to AT&T ballpark in San Francisco, has an average slip size of 36 feet and only one finger dock per boat.

To get a sense of the loss that would be incurred in closing off and converting most of Clipper Cove into a marina, compare the size of Clipper Cove in this map against the size of McCovey Cove next to the AT&T ball park. McCovey Cove is one of the larger protected coves in San Francisco, yet it is dwarfed by Clipper Cove.

To get a sense of the loss that would be incurred in closing off and converting most of Clipper Cove into a marina, compare the size of Clipper Cove in this map against the size of McCovey Cove next to the AT&T ball park. McCovey Cove is one of the larger protected coves in San Francisco, yet it is dwarfed by Clipper Cove.

Supporters of Clipper Cove are challenging the current marina proposal and calling for a temporary hold on development in the Cove so that the current public use of the Cove can be properly assessed and the cost and benefits of a mega-marina properly considered.

For more information go to www.saveclippercove.org.

Hunter Cutting

Speak out against Delta Twin Tunnels at March 16 Tri-valley water agency meeting

Image courtesy Restore the Delta.

Image courtesy Restore the Delta.

The Zone 7 water agency is scheduled to vote to support the Delta Twin Tunnels project (now dubbed California “WaterFix”) at a public meeting on March 16th.  They need to hear from area residents like you who oppose the Delta tunnels — join us and speak out!

WHAT: Zone 7 water agency board meeting, citizens forum
DATE: Wednesday, March 16th
TIME: 7 pm (the citizens forum will occur at the beginning of the meeting)
LOCATION: 100 N. Canyons Parkway, Livermore

If you can attend the meeting and would like additional Sierra Club talking points, email Bay Chapter Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at sodier at mindspring.com. We will have Sierra Club stickers available to identify attendees.

Zone 7 sells treated water primarily to four retail water agencies: the California Water Service Company, the cities of Livermore and Pleasanton, and the Dublin San Ramon Services District. Not only will the Twin Tunnels project result in higher water rates for residents being served by these water districts, but as a State Water Project contractor it is likely that they will also use parcel/property taxes to pay for the project, even though you will not receive any additional water.

In addition, Zone 7 Water Agency’s calculations are based on a 40% contribution from the Westlands Water District to the project’s total costs. However, Westlands officials have recently stated in public meetings and to the press that they are not moving forward with any further financial contributions.  In addition, they are in hot water with the SEC for “Enron-style” accounting. That means that smaller water agencies, like Zone 7, will have to come up with the additional funding.

If you can’t be attend the meeting, please send a brief message to the board voicing your opposition to the Twin Tunnels project. Send your email to: BoardofDirectors@zone7water.com.

Sample comment language provided by Restore the Delta:

Dear Zone 7 Water Agency board members,

Instead of spending more money on planning and supporting the Delta tunnels, which will not meet standards under the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act for protection of the Delta, it would be much more cost-effective for Zone 7 Water Agency to continue to pursue the good conservation measures that are currently at work, and to draw available water from the Delta during wet periods.

As a water rate payer and property tax payer, I do not want to pay money for a project that will not create additional water supply.  I do not want to pay money for a project so that Zone 7 Water Agency moves into the water resale business. In addition, seeing that Westlands Water District officials are facing an SEC fine for “Enron” style accounting and are saying in public meetings and to the press that they are not contributing their 40% share to the total cost of the project, Zone 7 will be on the hook for significantly more money as the years go by.  And for what?  To help State Water Project contractors in the Southern part of the state?

As part of the Bay-Delta region, it makes more sense for Zone 7 Water Agency to align itself with other Bay-Delta communities to protect the long term health of the SF Bay-Delta estuary. The Department of Water Resources’ own modeling and climate change modeling by independent scientists shows us that there is going to be less and less water available from the Delta watershed.How can Zone 7 invest in what will ultimately become a stranded asset? Please VOTE NO against CA WaterFix/Delta Tunnels.

March 11 hearing announced on impacts of Twin Tunnels on SF Bay

Photo courtesy www.protectourwater.net

Photo courtesy www.protectourwater.net

In a significant victory for Bay Area opponents of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed water conveyance tunnels, California State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), in coordination with San Francisco State Senator Mark Leno and Supervisor Scott Wiener, has announced a hearing in San Francisco to examine impacts of the proposed tunnels on San Francisco Bay itself.

WHAT: Hearing on pending Delta decisions and their potential economic and other impacts on San Francisco and the Bay Area
WHEN: Friday, March 11 at 10 am
WHERE: Milton Marks Auditorium of the Milton Marks Building, 455 Golden Gate Avenue.

The public will be encouraged to speak during the public comment segment, particularly focusing on the potential impacts to SF Bay.

The tunnels project—“California Water Fix”—will intercept pristine Sacramento River water at the top of the Delta, further depriving San Francisco Bay of critically important freshwater flows. The project will pump this water south, mostly to huge agriculture export operations in the southern San Joaquin Valley—in dry years as well as wet ones. The experimental tunnels will be 40 feet in diameter and 30 miles long, and will be buried 150 feet deep under some of the most ecologically sensitive lands in the state. The project will take 15-20 years to complete, at a cost of up to $67 billion.

The Delta water tunnels project remains unfamiliar to most Bay Area residents, even though it poses a grave economic and environmental threat to the region. State officials have consistently deflected queries about predictable impacts: the 48,000-page project draft includes only a few paragraphs on San Francisco Bay, and claims that effects of water diversions will be negligible.

For more information, visit www.protectourwater.net or read more in the Yodeler.

Westlands water deal threatens health of the Delta

Map of the Westlands Water District

Map of the Westlands Water District

In a settlement with grave implications for the imperiled environment of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the Interior Department on September 15 turned over to the Westlands Water District the responsibility for cleaning up toxic irrigation drainage water that has damaged 285,000 acres of farmland within its boundaries. The deal would guarantee Westlands, located in western Fresno and Kings counties, a supply in perpetuity of taxpayer-subsidized water drawn from the Trinity River and the Delta, eliminating a previous requirement to renew the contract every two years. The district would also be relieved of a $375-million-dollar interest-free debt to taxpayers for construction costs of the Central Valley Project, the massive federal water delivery system.

The Interior Department touted the agreement, which requires congressional approval by January 2017, as a savings to taxpayers of $3.5 billion — the estimated cost of cleaning up the district’s toxic drainage. This is misleading, however, because if the federal government had cleaned up the drainage problem  as required by the courts, Reclamation law would have obligated Westlands to reimburse the government (and the taxpayers) for the entire cost of the cleanup.

The soil in nearly half of Westlands’ 600,000 acres contains shallow, salty groundwater that impedes crop growth. All of the land within Westlands is plagued by high amounts of mineral salts and selenium, a naturally-occurring trace element left by an ancient sea. The salts are harmful to crops, and selenium in irrigation drainage can kill and cause severe birth defects in fish and wildlife.

Conservation groups quickly denounced the agreement for ensuring Westlands vast amounts of inexpensive federal water to irrigate toxic land. Westlands would continue drawing water from the Trinity River and the Delta, an environment already damaged by excessive diversion, with no limits on the size of farms eligible to receive it. The California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), Food and Water Watch, and Restore the Delta summarized its impact: “Water would be provided at lower prices, without acreage limits, and with permanent entitlements. These terms will lead to ever-increasing water deficits for California’s communities, economy, and environment.”

The groups also questioned Westlands’ ability to accomplish the clean-up. Lloyd Carter, president of the California Save Our Streams Council, told the Fresno Bee, “It’s ridiculous that Westlands even claims it can solve the drainage problem when federal agencies, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, did not find an economical and environmentally safe solution.”

The settlement in fact contains no performance standards for Westlands to meet, requiring only that the district become “legally responsible for the management of drainage water” within its boundaries. Kate Poole, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which intervened in litigation over the dispute, pointed out to the Los Angeles Times, “So there’s no indication that they have to do something more than what’s currently happening [with drainage] or that they have to do it by a certain time.”

Environmentalist Carter observed that the inexpensive water provides a further windfall for Westlands, as it can sell its unused supply to urban districts for a sizable profit. Indeed, a very real possibility exists of Westlands transferring its entire water contract to such a district for a huge financial gain. The impact would be devastating to the Delta if the transfer were a permanent one, since even in years of drought urban water districts are guaranteed 50% of their contracted water delivery, while agricultural districts like Westlands can be denied 100% of their water if there is real scarcity, as has occurred in the past two years. This would result in hundreds of thousands of additional acre-feet of water being drawn from the Delta each year during a protracted drought.

Local Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09) called the settlement a “sweetheart deal” that gives Westlands “an advantageous, no-need-to-review contract that could improve the water deliveries they receive from the Delta and further devastate its fragile ecosystem.”

Richard Frank, director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at U.C. Davis, observed to the Los Angeles Times, “My hunch is that the more Congress digs into the details of this, the more controversial the settlement is going to get.  And the less are the prospects for a quick and easy congressional ratification.”

David Holloway for the Water Committee

Weigh in now to stop dam funding

Sites Res Location Credit Steve Evans FORWhether California relies on unproductive new dams or instead invests in innovation for water storage rests with how the California Water Commission (CWC) develops its regulations between now and the end of November.

The $7.5 billion dollar Water Bond that passed in 2014 contained $2.7 billion that is to be used for water storage projects, guided by the CWC’s regulations being developed now. Eligible projects include two dams Sierra Club California opposes: Sites and Temperance Flat Reservoir.

Based on early drafts of the regulations, it appears the Commission won’t take climate change into account when quantifying the impacts of water storage projects. That means the regulations will likely favor outdated projects, like Sites and Temperance Flat, that don’t consider changing temperature and precipitation patterns.

But California has an opportunity, through these new regulations, to invest in water storage infrastructure that can better adapt to climate change and prepare for future droughts. Forward-thinking projects, such as groundwater recharge, conjunctive management, and even smaller local rainwater capture projects could be funded instead of dams.

The regulations are entering the final stretch of the development process before being submitted to the Office of Administrative Law. These regulations need to be responsive to the environment and accurately account for the impacts climate change will have on California’s hydrology. This will help the CWC see that when you do the math correctly, dams just don’t hold water.

Sierra Club California staff have been advocating at the CWC to ensure that public money isn’t wasted on useless 19th century relics, like Sites and Temperance Flat. We have argued that using historical data to show how these projects will impact rivers is misleading. Climate modeling should be incorporated to appropriately guide which water storage projects should be funded.

WhatYouCanDo

We’re actively commenting on the regulations, but the CWC should hear from the public as well. Write them to let the Commission know that the regulations should accurately account for climate change. Let the Commission know that you oppose destructive dams, and instead favor innovative investments in our future.

Send the California Water Commission an e-mail at CWC@water.ca.gov.

Or write a conventional letter to the Commission at:

California Water Commission
P.O. Box 942836
Sacramento, California 94236-0001

By Kyle Jones, reprinted from the Sierra Club California Capitol Voice October 2015 Bulletin.

Don’t let the Water Commission waste money on dams — speak up for groundwater storage

Photo courtesy sfwater.org.

Photo courtesy sfwater.org.

California voters approved Proposition 1, the Water Bond, in November, 2014. That Bond contains $2.7 billion for water storage projects. This money must be granted by the California Water Commission for:

  • Large dams
  • Groundwater storage in cleanup
  • Conjunctive use and reservoir reoperation
  • Local projects

Voice to the California Water Commission that dams are the wrong choice!

The California Water Commission will be having a public meeting to hear what Californians want to see the $2.7 billion in water storage projects go towards. It is imperative that we show up to oppose environmentally damaging and costly dams. We have talking points below that you can use to help show that a vote for Proposition 1 was not a vote for dams.

Meeting:

Monday, October 12, 2015 6-8 pm
Lafayette Veterans Memorial Center
3780 Mt. Diablo blvd
Lafayette, CA 94549

Talking Points:

  • California doesn’t need more dams — we have 1,400 already and the best spots have been built on.
  • Our water supply can be better secured in the future by investing in our depleted aquifers, which are the only things large enough to replace the long-term storage that the Sierra snowpack used to provide.
  • Groundwater storage provides a cost-effective, locally driven method of providing both seasonal and year to year water storage.
  • A recent study by Stanford has shown that the funds in Chapter 8 of the Water Bond could provide 8.4 million acre-feet of storage if used for groundwater storage projects.
  • Urge the Water Commission to make sure that groundwater storage projects and innovative local projects that build self-reliance — not outdated dams — are selected for funding.

Prioritizing water quality and biodiversity in the EBMUD Watershed Master Plan

Photo courtesy EBMUD.

Photo courtesy EBMUD.

Not everyone knows that the East Bay Muncipal Water District (EBMUD) manages watersheds — and the recreation that goes on there — as well as serving up drinking water and treating sewage. In addition to the District’s primary source of drinking water on the Mokelumne River, it maintains five terminal storage reservoirs in the East Bay, including Chabot, Upper San Leandro, San Pablo, Lafayette, and Briones.

EBMUD is currently reviewing and updating its Watershed Master Plan, a process it is required to undergo every 20 years. There are a number of critical issues the District will need to address in this review, including climate change, habitat conservation, water quality, and fire prevention. In terms of changes to recreational use, mountain biking advocates have called for opening up EBMUD watershed lands to their uses. EBMUD Director Marguerite Young — whom the Sierra Club endorsed when she ran for the office in 2014 — is leading the process to reconsider the long-standing policy against allowing mountain bikes on District watershed lands in the East Bay. Currently, EBMUD only allows hikers and equestrians on watershed lands with a trail permit.

EBMUD’s primary goals are to protect water quality and biodiversity and to keep the most protective status for watershed lands. The current policy on mountain biking has succeeded in fulfilling the District’s important public trust. So why mess with a system in balance? Mountain bikers can already bike on over 1,000 miles of trails in adjacent East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) lands. Certain wild places like watershed lands should be preserved in their most pristine state as sanctuaries for natural ecological processes and adaptations that protect significant plant and animal communities.

When the District last revised its Watershed Master Plan in 1995, a Citizens Advisory Committee studied the issue of whether to allow mountain bike access. The Committee concluded that in order to protect water quality and biodiversity it was wise to continue the ban on mountain bikes (a position the Sierra Club supported then as now), and in 1996 the EBMUD Board voted to accept the Committee’s recommendation.

In watershed lands, mountain bikes are only allowed on a set of trails around the Lafayette Reservoir — which has a paved trail to prevent erosion — and on certain paved areas of San Pablo Reservoir Recreation Area. This policy protects the pristine watershed lands while allowing some access to bikers in areas that are less sensitive and have already been developed.

On August 20th, the District held a well-attended public hearing at which Sierra Club spokesperson Norman LaForce expressed concern that fast-moving cyclists could increase erosion, disturb wildlife, collide with joggers and equestrians, and interfere with the serenity of these “natural jewels.” Larry Kolb, a member of the Chapter’s East Bay Public Lands committee, spoke as a hiker-biker and raised the problem of hikers feeling overrun by bikers coming downhill fast. He pointed out that mountain bikers already have lots of trails available in the neighboring EBRPD lands. Helen Burke, a former EBMUD Director, expressed concern about how bikers would be managed and how the watershed would be monitored for adverse impacts.

Enforcement and monitoring of mountain bikers would require additional resources from the District at a time when it is facing revenue reductions as a result of the drought and climate change. EBMUD currently only has one ranger for the entire watershed — certainly not sufficient to enforce regulations such as trail speed limits and staying on established trails. Even agencies with enforcement officers like the Park District find it hard to enforce rules and regulations concerning mountain bikes, because bikers move quickly. If EBMUD were to open up areas currently closed to mountain biking, it would have to create a large force to patrol thousands of acres of land, issue tickets, and take violators to court. In addition, EBMUD enforcement rangers might have to use motorized bikes, which would bring additional costs and environmental impacts.

There are also proponents of opening up the 13 miles of Ridge Trail that will go through EBMUD lands to bikers. Ensuring bikers stayed on that trail would be challenging, requiring a substantial ranger presence and checkpoints.

The Sierra Club opposes additional mountain bike access to watershed properties. The cost for accommodating this intense recreation would be too high, and would compromise the ability of the District to maintain biodiversity and water quality. It would also drastically change the experience for equestrian riders and hikers. In this time of persistent drought and climate disruption, EBMUD should be dedicating its time and resources to more pressing issues.

The issue of bike access on watershed lands will go to the Board Planning Committee and then to the full Board over the fall months with a decision likely after the first of the year.

WhatYouCanDo

You can write to the Board and tell them that the current policy, with some bike access in very developed areas, should not be changed. This policy has worked well for 20 years. Send your comments to watershedmasterplan@ebmud.com.
For more information go to www.ebmud.com/recreation/protecting-natural-habitat.

You can also participate with the Chapter’s East Bay Public Lands Committee on this issue. That group meets the second Wednesday of each month. Email Committee Chair Norman LaForce for details, at n.laforce@comcast.net.

—Helen Burke

The Governor’s Delta tunnels: an ecological disaster in the making

The Sacramento splittail is a hardy minnow native to the upper San Francisco Estuary and the Central Valley in California. It once swam in lakes and rivers throughout the Central Valley and in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, but massive water diversions and alteration of important spawning and rearing habitat have driven this formerly common species to near extinction. Remnant populations of splittail in the Delta require adequate freshwater outflow and periodic floodplain inundation. (USFWS).

From the US Fish and Wildlife Service: The Sacramento splittail is a hardy minnow native to the upper San Francisco Estuary and the Central Valley in California. It once swam in lakes and rivers throughout the Central Valley and in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, but massive water diversions and alteration of important spawning and rearing habitat have driven this formerly common species to near extinction. Remnant populations of splittail in the Delta require adequate freshwater outflow and periodic floodplain inundation.

Governor Brown’s administration has long touted a plan for a massive pair of tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River above the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and deliver it to areas south.

The Sierra Club officially opposes the tunnels, in no small part because it would further degrade the Delta — the largest estuary along the west coast of North and South America and a key habitat for fish and wildlife including at least nine threatened or endangered species. Yet despite voluminous studies concerning the health of the Delta almost no attention has been devoted to the impact of water diversions on San Francisco Bay itself. In fact, the Bay-Delta watershed is one complex and interrelated ecosystem.

The tunnels project would have huge impacts on the watershed at the heart of the Bay Area, but most people in the region seem completely unaware of this fast-tracked project. Seven million Californians call the Bay Area home, with the iconic waters of San Francisco Bay making it one of the best places to live in the world. The tunnels, which could divert and deplete the Bay of fresh water, would place the Bay ecosystem at risk — and with it, the jobs, recreation, and wildlife that depend on a healthy Bay.

And for all its costs to the environment and taxpayers, there is too little certainty that the project would even solve the essential water-supply problems all Californians face as we grapple with climate change.

The Brown administration is clearly making little effort beyond scare tactics to educate the public about the immensity of the Tunnels scheme — a project that would be the most expensive water-diversion project in U.S. history. Here are the facts:

The tunnels would each be 40 feet in diameter and 30 to 35 miles long. They are being designed far larger than needed to maintain current water flow: large enough to intercept the entire normal flow of the Sacramento River. That capacity could open the door to even greater water exports to the southern Central Valley and Southern California than what is being proposed.

The Bay-Delta watershed is already in dire straits. It will not be able to recover if more water is exported. Native fish counts show that the Delta and Bay require significantly more fresh water — not less — in order to recover. Salinity intrusion is already a huge problem in the Delta and is expected to worsen due to climate change and sea-level rise. Water exports must be reduced, not increased, to comply with applicable laws, public trust principles, and reasonable use — and to avoid potential ecosystem collapse.

The tunnels’ extraordinary $67-billion price tag (including financing costs) will vacuum up available funding for smarter regional and local approaches to developing an intelligent water policy in a changing, drier world. Such measures include:

  • Continuing our state’s impressive conservation efforts;
  • Investing in storm-water catchment and water-recycling systems;
  • Sustainable groundwater management;
  • Improved agricultural water efficiency
  • Strictly enforcing Clean Water Act standards, without exceptions, to protect fish and wildlife.

The first step toward rational statewide water policy is to recognize a fundamental underlying problem: the Sacramento River has water-rights claims exceeding actual supplies by a factor of more than five. We can’t engineer ourselves out of that underlying stark reality of over-allocation.

WhatYouCanDo

Send a letter explaining your opposition to the tunnels to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who will have to sign off on the final environmental documents involving the tunnels.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell
Department of the Interior
1849 C St, NW
Washington, DC 20240

—John Hooper is a San Francisco resident representing Protect Our Water, a Bay Area group concerned about the potential impacts the twin tunnels on the San Francisco Bay. Email info@protectourwater.net for more information and to get involved.