Not building the controversial Delta tunnel means Southern California and Bay Area cities would need to invest in desalination plants and groundwater recharge of brackish water that could impact the visual pleasantries of coastal scenery.
That is the bottom line buried in the no-project alternative of the Army Corps of Engineers’ latest 691-page Environmental Impact Study on the proposed Delta tunnel study released last week.
The report determined building the tunnel will have major impacts on San Joaquín County as well as the Northern San Joaquin Valley including agricultural, local water supply, air quality, endangered species and essential fish habitat.
The tunnel — if built — could have domino impacts beyond the actual project.
That’s because courts and the state will be pressed to seek to replace water that is now used for environmental purposes, keep salt water at bay and sustain ecological systems before being diverting into the California Aqueduct northwest of Tracy.
By diverting the water into a tunnel south of Sacramento to bypass the Delta to reach the pumping station it would result in higher saltwater intrusion farther east in the Delta, especially during droughts.
The most likely target to replace the water are the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced river watersheds that are key to the economic vitality of Northern San Joaquin Valley urban areas and farming as well as regional ecological systems.
The Army Corps of Engineers has declined to hold any in-person hearings for feedback on the study whose comment period ends Feb. 14, 2023.
That fact has drawn a sharp rebuke from Congressman Josh Harder.
“Six weeks of public comment on a project that will impact us for hundreds of years is unacceptable and another demonstration of Sacramento putting itself first and the Valley last,” Harder said in a statement. “Today, I’m calling on the Army Corps to reverse its decision and hold a real, in-person public hearing before the end of January so they can hear directly from Valley farmers and families about what this disastrous project would mean to all of us.”
Besides the lack of in-person input, Harder has a dim view of the project that will divert water near Freeport into a tunnel to reach the pumping plants near Tracy to head further south and into the Bay Area.
“Building the Delta Tunnel will crush our farmers, endanger our environment, and put our whole community at risk,” Harder said. “I refuse to let that happen. Everyone in the Valley knows the Delta Tunnel is a terrible idea and a greedy water grab. Now, we have a report that makes those facts clear as day.”
Harder, along with fellow Congress members Jerry McNerney and John Garamendi, in July introduced an amendment to prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from issuing a Clean Water Act permit for the California Delta Conveyance Project.
Their argument is the tunnel would rob the Delta of the benefit of Sacramento River water that currently flows through it on the way to the pumps at the head of the California Aqueduct northwest of Tracy.
That would impact not just the quality of water but it would reduce the volume which in turn can raise water temperatures than can be fatal to fish as it robs water of dissolved oxygen. At the same time less water in the Delta means salt water would push farther to the east.
Potential fallout for San Joaquin County, which has the largest land mass within the Delta region, include:
*Extensive damage to the Delta ecological system.
*Negative impact on fish including the endangered Chinook salmon.
*Long-range issues with saltwater intrusion impacting water supplies the cities of Lathrop, Tracy, Manteca, and Stockton take from the underground aquifer that is impacting when fresh water levels above and below the surface in the Delta drop.
*The quality and sustainability of Delta recreational opportunities.
*Tens of thousands of acres of farmland, some of the richest agricultural ground in the world, could go out of production.
*Domestic water supplies would be impacted.
The state’s Delta tunnel plan benefits the massive Metropolitan Water District in Southern California, several East Bay cities as well as billionaire and corporate farmers in West Kern County.
Originally it was rolled out as a twin tunnel plan with the idea of protecting Delta water supplies for Southern California in the event that earthquakes collapsed the Delta levee. It has since been scaled back to one tunnel.
The justification has morphed into one where the project is now set to combat anticipated rises in sea level, not by protecting the Delta from intrusion with a seawall or such, but by diverting water to users in the south state taken from Northern California via a tunnel.
As such it would rob the Delta of water flows that for centuries has helped sustain fish and the Delta’s unique ecological system that serves as the biggest estuary along the Pacific Flyway.
The no-project alternative essentially states coastal users would have no choice but to invest in desalination plants.
The Notice of Availability and the Draft EIS are available on the Army Corps website at https://www.spk.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Delta-Conveyance/.