January 17, 2017

Search Results for: peripheral

Bay-Delta peripheral-tunnel plan could dry up north-state reservoirs

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Population growth and climate change create huge challenges to California water supplies. The state Department of Water Resources (DWR) has been pushing solutions from the last century, which include huge tunnels in the Delta (see October-November Yodeler, page 3) and new or raised dams for Sacramento River water.

The DWR has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on computer modeling in an attempt to get around a fundamental fact—that we are currently diverting more water from the state’s rivers and the Sacramento Delta than the ecosystems can sustain.

To promise more water to water-export agencies funding the proposed projects, DWR has had to relax current operating limits on north-state reservoirs. The computer models for the proposed operations of the Delta tunnels assume that Shasta, Trinity, and Folsom Reservoirs will be drained to minimum pool in the third year of a multi-year drought, and that Trinity River will be dried up completely. DWR is also assuming that water-quality standards in the Delta will be relaxed, allowing salty Bay water to be drawn even deeper into the estuary (this is a plan that purports to give equal weight to protection of the Delta environment!) These proposed operations would be disastrous for fish and for Sacramento Valley and Delta water users. Nonetheless the water agencies that would supposedly benefit have not yet agreed to pay for the project.

To get around the conflict, DWR is joining with the federal Bureau of Reclamation to propose raising Shasta Dam to store more water—but the raised dam would simply be a dry wall of concrete in nine out of 10 years, and the projected yield for the remaining very wet year double-counts the water that would be stored behind the dam and diverted downstream by the Delta tunnels.


DWR will be releasing the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan on Dec. 13. The public will have until April 14 to comment on the plan; see the next Yodeler for more about the EIR and the Club’s comments on it.

The Chapter Water Committee is working with the League of Women Voters-Eden Area Group to present a forum on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan in early 2014. We will post further information at theYodeler.org  and on the Chapter Calendar when available.

To work with the Chapter Water Committee on in the campaign to oppose the Bay Delta Plan, contact committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at (510)336-1102 or sodier@mindspring.com.

The Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Water Committee is also working to develop sound alternative solutions. For more information, contact Deirdre Des Jardins at campaign@mbaysav.org.

Deirdre Des Jardins

Peripheral tunnels not good idea

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

Something strange happened recently during the state’s march to build a pair of peripheral tunnels around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The tunnel proponents moved the tunnels (see “Governor’s tunnel vision leaves out Delta protection”).

With a certain amount of fanfare and a press-only press conference, secretary of resources John Laird announced that the administration now proposes to move the pathway for the big tunnels that will draw river water from above the Delta and deliver it to south of the Delta.

The move would push the tunnels eastward and away from at least one farm still in production. Instead the tunnels would run through Stanton Island—active feeding and resting space for sandhill cranes.

That crane space happens to be owned by the Nature Conservancy, which had been the first environmental group to embrace the peripheral tunnels as a grand solution for the Delta–years ago, long before any details, including the environmental assessment of the proposed tunnels, were available.

Stanton Island will be a crane resort no more if the digging begins for the twin tunnels. Those tunnels are to be four stories high and together capable of moving 9,000 cubic feet of water per second.

People, including the administration’s water experts, have assumed for quite some time that Sierra Club has been officially opposed to the Delta tunnels. Make no mistake, we want something to be done to stop the Delta’s ecosystem crash. It’s the largest estuary along the west coast of North and South America. It’s a key link to environmental health in our state and beyond. But until very recently, despite our open criticism of the proposed project, we hadn’t taken a position.

We delayed taking a position because we wanted to see the details of the proposal for the tunnels and hoped for the best. More than a year ago, we listed seven key questions involving costs, timing, impacts, and operations that need to be answered. In May of this year, most—but not all—of those questions were addressed in some form in volumes of documents that will ultimately make up the draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposal.

The Club’s process for policymaking is notoriously deliberate and often slow. But that’s a good thing. Our volunteers take seriously the notion that every viewpoint needs to be considered. In July, after many, many months of conversation and debate—in person, on conference calls and via long e-mail chains—the policymaking body of Sierra Club California, which includes representatives from every part of the state, voted to oppose the peripheral-tunnels proposal.

There you have it. We are officially opposed to the proposal to build two giant tunnels that will move water from the Sacramento River system, around the Delta, and to the south. We are taking this position because there is too much certainty that the tunnels will further degrade the Delta environment. There is too little certainty that it will solve the essential water-supply problems all Californians face as we grapple with climate change.

That’s right–all Californians. Too often, California’s water-supply issue has been framed as one of northern versus southern California. That framing is a devious way to distract Californians from our key problem: what do we need to do to help everyone in the state conserve a precious resource while enhancing the economy and protecting the environment?

There are a lot of answers to this question, and none of them include becoming more dependent on exports through or around the Delta.

For instance, we need to devote more resources to water conservation. That means going beyond low-flush toilets. We need industrial-scale improvements in water conservation, new investment in fixing the old leaking infrastructure in our cities, and more and better recycling.

We need to make better, wiser use of farmlands. There are parts of the state where farmers ought to have a chance to farm solar energy in exchange for reducing their water demand for conventional crops.

We need to stop polluting the clean water we have. We need to clean up the groundwater supplies around the state that are not potable because of past pollution. And we need to seriously consider water impacts when we decide as a society which industries we want to grow. For example, why is California allowing fracking, when that activity is so heavily dependent on sucking up massive amounts of clean water, polluting it, and then casting it aside as waste?

These are just a few answers, but you get the idea.

As long as everyone in the water world stays focused on that old standby, the notion of creating a new way to move water around or through the Delta, Californians will be shortchanged. It’s time for the state’s water leaders to take a new tack. Abandon the costly peripheral tunnels and invest in answers that we can all live with, to make every region more sustainable and support all Californians.

In addition to moving the tunnels, the latest proposal also calls for reducing their length from 35 to 30 miles. That’s a good trend. Keep cutting, and we’ll be rid of crazy peripheral tunnels for good.

Kathryn Phillips, director, Sierra Club California

Secret Contra Costa Water District ‘Twin Tunnels’ deal sells Delta short

The critically endangered delta smelt could disappear if more fresh water is diverted from the Delta. Photo courtesy USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Flickr page.

The critically endangered delta smelt could disappear if more fresh water is diverted from the Delta. Photo courtesy USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Flickr page.

Recently, a backroom deal was made between Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) and the State Department of Water Resources that sells short CCWD customers as well as Delta fish and farmers.

The story began when CCWD opposed a petition by the State to divert more fresh water from the Sacramento River around the Delta as part of the controversial twin tunnels, or “WaterFix,” project. CCWD was against the proposal because it would negatively impact water quality throughout the Delta, including sites where it draws water for its customers.

On March 24th, in a closed-session meeting that wasn’t announced ahead of time, the CCWD’s Board of Directors approved an agreement with the Department of Water Resources to get upstream water from the State to offset the impact of the proposed twin tunnels — in exchange for CCWD dropping its opposition to the diversion petition.

CCWD operates under the State’s Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires that local agencies conduct their business in open meetings “…to facilitate public participation in local government decisions and to curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation…” In violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Brown Act, there was no release of a public agenda nor announcement of the closed session. The board didn’t even report on the substance of the agreement in open session at the public meeting during which the closed session was held.  A subsequent news release just said that the Board of Directors would review details of the agreement at the April 6th board meeting.

On April 2th, East Bay Times reporter Denis Cuff broke the story in an article titled “East Bay Water District’s Delta Deal raises eyebrows among environmentalists.” At the April 6th board meeting, details of the agreement were at last revealed to the public, but there was no opportunity for input into the decision since action had already been taken.

CCWD’s decision to enter the agreement was extremely disappointing and a significant departure from past policy. The board’s action runs contrary to interests of its constituents as well as the Delta environment. By obtaining more higher-quality water upstream of the Delta, less fresh water will run into and through the already threatened estuary. This at a time when indicator species such as the critically endangered Delta smelt have declined significantly in numbers and now face extinction.

For decades, CCWD fought alongside Contra Costans to protect the Delta in order to save fish populations and to protect irrigation sources for farmers. In 1982, CCWD was a leader in the successful effort to defeat the Peripheral Canal, which 96 percent of Contra Costa residents and a majority of State voters opposed. Now the Peripheral Canal is back, renamed the “WaterFix.”

There are many protests in play against the State’s change-of-diversion petition that would make way for the twin tunnels; DWR is trying to buy them off one by one. Building the tunnels hinges on the willingness of water agencies — including several in the Bay Area — to pay for it. Bay Area residents will be directly affected by the tunnels, and can have a voice in these decisions by urging our water agencies to stand firm in protecting the Delta and opposing the tunnel plan. Deals like CCWD’s agreement will strengthen the tunnels’ proponents, and put the Delta in greater jeopardy.

CCWD’s decision violated its legal requirements to be transparent and accountable to the public. The Board should hold a public hearing on the agreement as soon as possible to reconsider its position. The Sierra Club recommends that the CCWD board revoke the settlement agreement with the State and reinstate their protest against the WaterFix tunnels.


Send a letter to the CCWD Board of Directors and General Manager Jerry Brown, 1331 Concord Avenue, Concord, CA 94524.  Tell them that because they violated specific provisions as well as the spirit of the Brown Act on a critical and controversial issue — the twin tunnels deal — they should hold a public hearing as soon as possible to reconsider their position. Urge them to revoke the settlement agreement and reinstate their protest of the twin tunnels.

If you’re interested in this and other water issues, consider attending a meeting of the Chapter’s Water Committee. The Committee meets the third Monday of each month — in person at the Bay Chapter’s Berkeley office in odd-numbered months; and via conference call in even months. For more information, you can reach out to Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at sodier at mindspring.com or (510)336-1102.

– Bay Chapter Water Committee

“Drought Alert: My Food, My Water, and the Mega Water Tunnel Project”–Thursday, February 20

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Thursday, February 20, 6 – 8 pm, Castro Valley Library, 3600 Norbridge Avenue, Castro Valley.

Concerned about the drought? Wondering what actions state officials are taking?

The Brown administration’s Bay-Delta Conservation Plan would create two side-by-side underground ‘peripheral’ tunnels, 33 feet in diameter, that would carry fresh water from the Sacramento River, under the Delta, to the federal and state pumps in Tracy. These giant pumps send northern California water south to farms in the Central Valley and urban areas in the East and South Bay, and in Southern California. This controversial plan will be the topic of a forum presented by the League of Women Voters Eden Area, the Sierra Club Bay Chapter Water Committee, and the Castro Valley Library.

Speaking in favor of the tunnels will be Paul Helliker, deputy director, California Department of Water Resources, Delta and Statewide Water Management; and Jill Duerig, general manager, Livermore/Amador Valley Zone 7 Water Agency. Speaking against the tunnels will be Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, executive director of Restore the Delta; and Nick Di Croce, co-facilitator, Environmental Water Caucus. Moderator will be Roberta Bornogovo, chair of the Water Committee for the California League of Women Voters. This will not be a debate. Rather, speakers will present their perspectives, to be followed by a 30 – 45-minute question-and-answer session based on written questions submitted by the audience.

This event is free, but pre-registration is required as seating is limited. To register, go to http://www.eventbrite.com/e/bay-del


Sierra Club California thanks you for support

SCC Winter_2013-14_Collage_Convio copy 300x300Thank you for everything you have done in the last year to support Sierra Club California. You have given voice to the environment in the State Capitol.

Whether you have spent time writing letters to the editor, calling your state legislator, responding to one of our alerts, or just paying your annual Club dues to help keep the Club effective, you have played an important role in protecting California’s environment.

With your activism and support for Sierra Club California, together we have accomplished a lot this year. For example, we have:

  • challenged, in court, the state’s lazy permitting of fracking sites, and we continue to press at the Capitol for a moratorium on fracking;
  • made local solar power more accessible to all Californians;
  • protected the public and environment from needless exposure to toxics through advocacy that led to California’s adoption of the Safer Consumer Products regulation in October;
  • campaigned to establish a national marine sanctuary off the Central Coast.
  • pushed policies to protect wolves, bobcats, and mountain lions, and reduce wildlife exposure to lead;
  • been among the first to demand that the governor spend revenues intended for reducing global-warming pollution now on reduction projects;
  • opposed—and continue to oppose—plans to install a pair of 30-mile long, four-story peripheral tunnels to divert water destined for the Delta.

Thank you for helping make 2013 a year when the environment could count on Sierra Club California.

Here’s to a sustainable 2014!

the staff and volunteer leaders at Sierra Club California

Sierra Club California is the Sacramento-based legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the 13 California chapters of the Sierra Club.

Please consider becoming a sustaining donor.

Delta Group program meeting: “Over Troubled Waters” — Tuesday, November 12

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Tuesday, November 12, 7:15 pm, Antioch Library, 501 West 18th Street, Antioch.

All through history, California’s water development has been controversial and complicated. Limited supply, increased demand, legal disputes, and environmental concerns, especially in the Delta, make California’s water future a challenging problem. California’s latest proposed water management plan, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), focuses on building two massive water tunnels to divert additional Sacramento River water to the Central Valley and Southern California–depriving our Delta of adequate freshwater flows for a healthy ecosystem (see “Peripheral tunnels not good idea”).

“Over Troubled Waters” is a 45-minute documentary brought to us by Restore the Delta, a local grassroots organization committed to making the Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. It is a coalition of Delta residents, business leaders, civic organizations, community groups, union locals, farmers, hunters, fishers, and environmentalists, working together to strengthen the health of the estuary and the well-being of Delta communities. Restore the Delta works in the areas of public education and outreach so that all Californians will recognize the Delta as part of California’s natural heritage, deserving of restoration.

The Oakley Kid's Derby is sponsored by the City of Oakley and takes place at the Oakley/Antioch fishing pier at the foot of the Antioch Bridge. In East County, residents' leisure time is almost exclusively involved with water activities.

The Oakley Kid’s Derby is sponsored by the City of Oakley and takes place at the Oakley/Antioch fishing pier at the foot of the Antioch Bridge. In East County, residents’ leisure time is almost exclusively involved with water activities.

Introducing the video will be Oakley resident Roger Mammon, president of the Lower Sherman Duck Hunters Association, president of the West Delta Chapter of the California Striped Bass Fishing Association, and a boardmember and secretary for Restore the Delta.

This will be a chance to hear Delta residents talk of their problems and concerns about how state water-management decisions will affect their future.

Before the program, we’ll socialize, munch goodies, and briefly discuss other current environmental issues and upcoming activities and events.

Delta Group program meetings are usually held in February, May, September, and November. A newsletter listing Delta Group programs, outings, and activities is available by sending a check for $5, payable to “Sierra Club, Delta Group”, to:

Janess Hanson
431 Levee Road
Bay Point, CA 94565.

For information about Delta Group activities, call Janess Hanson at (925)458-0860. For information about Delta area environmental concerns, call Tim Donahue at (925)754-8801.

Upcoming hikes and activities

For more information about these activities, see the Chapter Calendar.

Sat., Oct. 19, Mount Tamalpais State Park, 1B hike

Sun., Nov. 17, Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, Crockett, 1A hike.

Statement on Governor Brown’s State-of-the-State Address

Sierra Club California logo.On Jan. 24 Gov. Brown presented his 2013 State-of-the-State Address, during which he commented on three issues directly addressing the environment: Delta water conveyance, California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and climate disruption, and transportation’s alignment with environmental needs.

We join the governor in congratulating the legislature and voters for passing Proposition 30, which helped bring us to the healthiest budget in a decade. Sierra Club California supported Proposition 30. The governor deserves high praise for his leadership in introducing and pushing that measure through. Thank you, Gov. Brown.

We also appreciate the governor’s continued leadership on addressing climate change and moving ahead to meet the state’s goals on greenhouse-gas pollution. Californians are united in wanting to take a lead on reducing that pollution, and we are all benefiting from the shift to cleaner energy for our electricity and our transportation.

We strongly disagree with the governor’s approach to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Giant tunnels or a peripheral canal are both out of order and won’t solve the water problems we face. Creating infrastructure that will literally suck the life out of a vast ecosystem on which the fishing industry, regional tourism, local farms, and California’s complex natural environment are all dependent is an outdated idea that needs to be deep-sixed.

A more rational approach makes more sense for the economies of northern and southern California, for the environment, and for the people who will need water if and when a massive earthquake strikes. That includes helping plug the leaks in the aging water-delivery infrastructure in California’s cities and towns; focusing on water conservation and reuse more intensely all over the state, including in the industrial and commercial sectors; fixing the crumbling levy system; and generally reducing Californians’ dependence on hundreds and hundreds of miles of quake-vulnerable aqueducts.

Californians have shown time and again their willingness to change and innovate to improve their lives and protect the environment. The governor has proven more than once that he is an innovative thinker. That’s why the notion of addressing our water challenges with an outmoded big building project that won’t deliver a better economy, better environment or more reliable water delivery, is so perplexing. It isn’t innovative, it won’t protect the environment, and it won’t solve the problem.

We are encouraged that the governor has asked the Transportation Agency to review how transportation planning and funding align, including his acknowledgement that Californians today have a different perspective on transportation and the environment from when his father was building highways. We hope that this review will consider cleaning up our highly polluting goods-movement system. It would also be good for that agency to bring a broad range of stakeholders to the table, including representatives of communities that have suffered the most from the old ways of doing transportation planning.

Kathryn Phillips, director, Sierra Club California

Delta-tunnel proposal raises huge environmental questions

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

On July 25 Gov. Jerry Brown announced plans to build a massive twin-tunnel system to carry water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to urban users in Southern California and agribusinesses on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. The two huge underground tunnels would carry Sacramento River water 37 miles to the federal and state pumps at Tracy.

Key decisions, however, on how much water will ultimately be diverted, how the system will be operated, and what actions will be taken to protect the region’s endangered species will be delayed until after construction has begun.

Sierra Club California senior advocate Jim Metropulos says, “Californians need to know upfront how much water will be taken from the Delta by the massive tunnels, and how that will impact fish and wildlife and how any negative impacts will be mitigated or avoided. Right now, the science shows that some species, including the winter Chinook salmon, would be harmed by the construction of the tunnels. The project could make things worse for fish and wildlife than not doing anything at all.

“The governor’s proposal also fails to show how the state will comply with the legal requirements that California reduce its reliance on water from the Delta.

“California water agencies can increase water supplies in less expensive and faster ways by expanding water conservation, water recycling, and stormwater recapture, and by repairing and revamping older local water-delivery systems.”

All signs seem to suggest that the state intends to allow the construction of world-record sized tunnels or pipes capable of diverting 15,000 cubic feet per second from the Sacramento River–nearly all of its average freshwater flow. Diversion of such a large quantity of water would have devastating impacts to fish and wildlife and water quality in the Delta. Estimates of the project’s costs are anywhere from $20 – $50 billion.

While the state is preparing to move forward with this project, many details remain unavailable to the public about it. Before California gives the green light to build a peripheral canal or tunnels around the Delta to divert water, Sierra Club California believes that some basic questions should be fully answered so Californians have all the facts about what’s being proposed.

  • How much will the project really cost? We’re being told that the costs of just the record-sized tunnels project are estimated to be at least $12 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 Bay-Delta Conservation Plan documents. Gov. Brown estimates the costs at $14 billion.
  • Who pays for the project? And who pays for the project’s impacts? The state last week released a “Benefit Analysis of the BDCP” that suggests the project makes economic sense for the South of the Delta water contractors, but only if huge costs are shifted to others, and if benefits not part of the project are counted. Why has no true statewide cost-benefit analysis been prepared or planned for this massive public-works project?
  • How much “new” water will be produced annually after the project is completed? What is the source? What are the real export levels and how were they determined?
  • When will this “new” water be available–2020? 2030? 2050?
  • How will this “new” water be divided among different users and the needs of the environment? How and when will that be determined?
  • What are the upstream impacts of this project on flows, temperatures, fisheries protection and reservoir operations?
  • 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”. How will the proposed project and its operations be adaptable to changes in California’s climate?

These fundamental questions need to be fully answered before the state spends another dime on the multi-year, multi-million dollar BDCP process. Too much is at stake for the Delta for the state and federal agencies to announce a plan that defers important decisions while an expensive and potentially damaging water-diversion project is allowed to proceed.

Governor Brown brings new hope to end our Delta deficits

Most Californians know of our state’s budget deficit–but do you know about our water deficit in the Delta?

The amount of water exported to southern California from the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary is unsustainable. With the health of this rich estuary in danger of collapsing, California has been trying to address the problem through a habitat-conservation planning process called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

A collaboration of water and fish agencies, environmental organizations, and other interested parties, the BDCP has a goal of protecting and restoring the ecological health of the Delta and providing a more reliable water supply.

The election of Gov. Jerry Brown, and his subsequent appointment of Jerry Meral as deputy secretary to head the BDCP process, bring hope of a more transparent and honest process. Previously most environmental groups had no seat at the table because that seat came with a heavy price tag: agreement to support a new conveyance like a peripheral canal.

State and federal agencies agree that the Delta is overpromised and overburdened. The State Water Resources Control Board recently found that the Delta needs a 75% increase in net flows to protect public-trust values, beneficial uses, fisheries, and water quality. Even more gravely, the Department of Interior recently reported to Congress that already-scarce water supplies in the western U.S. will probably dwindle further as a result of climate change, causing problems for millions in the region.

“Business as usual” water exports can no longer be supported. The National Academy of Sciences recently reviewed the Schwarzenegger administration’s BDCP work, and questioned the increased water diversions from the imperiled Bay-Delta that serves as a critical salmon nursery for the entire West Coast. Water deliveries to southern California must be reduced to reflect the scientific data and protect fisheries and water quality. We are therefore requesting revision to environmental documents for the BDCP to be consistent with “currently acknowledged water supplies available rather than promising to deliver inflated water contract demands.”

The health of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary is important to all Californians. No one wants to lose our salmon runs or any other species due to excessive water exports. That’s why water conservation and increased water-use efficiency remain important even in this wet year. We must also continue to promote water-supply alternatives for southern California like stormwater recapture, water recycling, and increased groundwater banking.

Jim Metropulos, senior advocate, Sierra Club California

Jim Metropulos represents the Sierra Club from Sacramento on statewide water and energy issues.