Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta: Let the Water Wars Begin!

Fresno, CA — Get ready for the water wars to be ignited once California Governor Jerry Brown unveils his plans by next week on the construction of a humongous twin tunnel system that shall access the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta River to distribute water to cities and farmlands.

Despite California’s overwhelming budget deficit of $16 billion and cities like Stockton, San Bernardino, and Mammoth Lakes filing for bankruptcy; Governor Jerry Brown is proposing another project that will cost the state of California $23.7 billion. It could possibly be too much optimism that the new sales and income tax law will horde in the dollars in case the mandate gets approved that maybe influencing the governor to confidently propose such a project. But the proposed tunnel project is being bombarded with heavy criticism.

The cost of the project is not just the bone of contention for the opponents of the said proposal. They are also arguing that the tunnel project will cause irreparable damage to the environment and the water quality. According to critics, the delta is already fragile and by constructing a tunnel, it will siphon more water further harming the surrounding fisheries, devastating the agricultural based economy by ruining water quality and increased costs for water users.

The proposal has not yet even seen the light of day but federal Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and 11 representatives of Congress had already fired off a letter to the Office of the Governor urging them to think twice and initiate a statewide analysis first before going ahead with the plan. They are questioning the results of an initial research conducted for the state that benefits of the project outweigh the project’s costs.

Meanwhile, the supporters of the tunnel project are clamoring that the project should have been done a long time ago. They reasoned that this will provide a steady source of water supply to farmers and other municipalities that are located on south of the delta. They further added that this project will actually help save the endangered fish species like the smelt and salmon.

The plan is not perfect and it does have holes according to federal and state officials but they are positive that they will be able to fix the issues that will arise as the tunnel project comes into existence. The estimated duration of the construction is within 10 to 15 years.

California Natural Resources Agency program manager Karla Nemeth had this to say, “We decided to embrace the scientific uncertainty regarding the facility’s operation, water flows, habitat restoration and the response of fish. Ultimately what passes muster is what will work for the fish.”

On the other hand, environment groups are strongly opposed to the project. According to them it is wrong and unethical to go ahead with the project that has so many holes in it and too many unanswered questions. Sierra Club California advocate Jim Metropulos opined that, “We need to know upfront what the impacts of the project are and how they are going to mitigate these impacts or actually improve conditions for the fish.”

The tunnel is not the first of its kind. In 1982, a canal plan was rejected by voters and other ideas were formulated but nothing was proposed nor came into light. Officials had tried to come up with a plan for years to improve the water supply. Even in the new proposal, the tunnel project will also be unable to provide all the required supply.

The proposed project would suck up the water by the use of 3 intakes that will be located on the Sacramento River under Freeport, transport it some 600 miles to pumping facilities in the vicinity of Tracy, and then utilize existing canals to distribute it to farms in the Central Valley and other cities like San Diego and Los Angeles.

The tunnel system would be able to distribute 67,500 gallons of water per second and can save on costs because the size of the infrastructure would allow the water to be moved by gravity.

Another one who disagrees with the tunnel project is Bill Jennings, a member of the executive committee of the Restore the Delta, an alliance of urban, farming and environmental groups. According to Jennings, the project will aggravate the delta’s dire situation. Apparently, the water in the tunnel project will contain more toxins and salts that will be lethal to crops.

“The delta is a biological meltdown. Taking more water won’t restore an ecosystem that’s already hemorrhaging from lack of flows. This plan is not a path to restoration; it’s a death sentence for one of the world’s greatest estuaries,” according to Jennings.

American Rivers director of conservation John Cain believes if the project is efficiently as it was promised there will be far less environmental impacts.

Strict regulations have been implemented since the decline of the once abundant salmon, smelt and other fish species in the area of the delta. Restrictions on water deliveries had forced farmers to abandon once fertile land. With the new proposal, the two sides of the coin are giving their best to justify their reasons to agree and oppose to the said project. Let the water wars begin …

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