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Sacramento County asks DWR to return to the drawing board on the tunnel project

In June of 2019, the Department of Water Resources gave the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) $19.7 million to continue work under the contracts signed for the WaterFix project. Delta Defenders joined other Delta community groups to formally request that DWR withdraw their approval for the DCA to commence work on the project. Our letter stated:

The WaterFix was a project that Delta residents strongly opposed, and that now has no underlying approvals or environmental review. Allowing the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (“DCA”) to continue preliminary design, survey and right of way mapping, and real estate acquisition planning based on the withdrawn WaterFix project specifications is wholly unacceptable to our communities. To our knowledge, DWR has no approved plans or specifications for the new Delta conveyance. And if the WaterFix project specifications are being used as the basis for the design of the new Delta conveyance under DWR’s authority, it is predecisional and will prejudice the new Delta conveyance CEQA process.

In response to our letter, DWR denied that any design work was continuing based on the cancelled project. But when the Delta tunnel Notice of Preparation came out in January of 2020, it was clear that the new single tunnel project was largely based on the failed twin tunnels project. Sacramento County’s comments to DWR on the Notice of Preparation called on DWR to “return to the drawing board”  and “propose a substantially different solution”:

 Unfortunately, the proposed Project offers nothing new or different from the abandoned twin tunnels project that generated statewide opposition. The Project threatens the same devastating impacts to the County, Delta environment, residents and economy, and the Delta National Heritage Area, as prior proposals. If it is to achieve the Governor’s objectives, Delta Reform Act and Delta Plan mandates, DWR will need to return to the drawing board and propose a substantially different solution for south of Delta export water supply reliability that avoids, rather than repeats, the mistakes of the past.   

Sacramento County commented on the devastating impacts of the tunnel project on County residents and businesses:

The County is ground zero in terms of the numerous devastating physical, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts of the proposed water infrastructure facilities, identified to be constructed in/near the communities of Freeport, Hood, and Courtland. The Project, if approved and constructed, will impact County residents, public facilities, and businesses in myriad and far-reaching ways. The residents and communities of the County will bear a disproportionate burden of the likely numerous significant unavoidable environmental impacts, which will benefit only agricultural and urban water users south of the Delta. The proposed water infrastructure facilities will slow or prevent the realization of the Delta National Heritage Area’s economic development, tourism, and historic preservation goals that are critical to maintaining the “Delta as a Place.” 

Sacramento County requested that the tunnel project’s purpose be expanded to include protecting and enhancing the Delta as an evolving place:

The Project objectives (NOP, p. 2.) are too narrowly drawn, focusing only on benefits to State Water Project (SWP) operations and south of Delta water deliveries. The objectives reference providing “operational flexibility to improve aquatic conditions in the Delta” but the Project does not commit to improving aquatic conditions, nor does it include any objectives that would protect water supplies for water users in and upstream of the Delta …

The Project objectives … should be expanded to include a specific objective to protect and enhance the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place, which is one of the Legislature’s directives for achievement of the “co-equal goals.” Finally, the Project objectives should be expanded to include prevention of water quality degradation in the Delta and avoidance of adverse impacts to water users in and north of the Delta, including impacts to Delta public facilities (which would include the SRWTP and FRWP) and Delta surface and groundwater users, consistent with the Delta Plan. 

Instead of addressing Sacramento County’s requests, DWR’s Delta Conveyance / Environmental Planning web page states that “[p]revious related environmental review and compliance documentation” will be posted on the website, and lists the withdrawn WaterFix project environmental documentation:

Draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan
Draft EIR/EIS
Recirculated Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS
Final EIR/EIS and all associated items
Incidental Take Permit

DWR seems committed to continuing the mistakes of the past.

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