Delta Defenders calls for pause in Delta tunnel stakeholder engagement process

The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) has been conducting Delta stakeholder engagement for the Department of Water Resources (DWR) with respect to the engineering design for the Delta Conveyance / Delta tunnel, with meetings of the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee every two weeks.

About a third of the DCA Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee members were unable to attend the Wednesday, March 11 meeting. Yet at the end of the meeting, Sarah Palmer, the Chair of the committee, announced that the next committee meeting would be held on March 25, as previously scheduled. The DCA website now states that “DCA Board meetings and Stakeholder Engagement Meetings will be accessible through video, phone or live (we will still set up a location where the public and SEC members can join.)”

On Monday, March 16, Delta Defenders sent a letter to DWR Director Karla Nemeth, DCA Board Chair Tony Estremera, and DCA Executive Director Kathryn Mallon, asking that the Delta stakeholder engagement process be paused during this public health emergency. The letter says in part:

Seriously? During this public health emergency, the Department of Water Resources and the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority are expecting Delta residents  to go through a 95 page PowerPoint containing detailed information on two alternative alignments for the proposed Delta tunnel project? We are supposed to evaluate proposed mitigations and communicate any concerns to our “representatives” on the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee?

We ask the question, why is the DCA and DWR continuing to rush
forward with the Delta tunnel engineering design? Why does the Delta stakeholder engagement process have to be pushed forward during a public health emergency, regardless of what Delta residents are dealing with?

Delta counties, Delta cities, Delta legacy communities, Delta businesses, Delta families, and organizations representing Delta interests are all currently dealing with a rapidly emerging public health crisis. New COVID-19 cases caused by community transmission are announced daily in Sacramento County, and in the Bay Area. Classes and public events have been cancelled, including fundraising events for Delta organizations. Bars, brew pubs and winery tasting rooms are closing, per Governor Newsom’s guidance. Restaurants are trying to figure out how to stay in business. Other businesses are dealing with loss of income and shifting employees to home work, or laying them off. Families are implementing social distancing, and starting to see economic impacts from the crisis. Some are dealing with potential exposures or even respiratory infections and a shortage of COVID-19 test kits. There are runs on disinfecting supplies, paper products, and even food at local stores.

We respectfully ask you to delay further Delta stakeholder engagement activities until the national and state public health emergency is more under control.

Read our letter here.

Update: Following receipt of our letter, DWR Director Karla Nemeth responded that the DCA was exploring continuing meetings by teleconference:

"..the DCA is exploring ways in which to enable virtual meetings that can best serve the complexity of information under discussion.  They will be in touch with you as alternative plans become available over the next few weeks."

Late Monday night, the DCA did cancel the March 25, 2020 Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee meeting, but stated that the DCA would discuss restarting the process with Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee members in two weeks.