Formally ending the two-tunnel plan in favor a single-tunnel plan will involve redoing lots of work on a project that already has been in the planning process for more than a decade. The Livermore Valley’s wholesale water agency, Zone 7, is one of the 29 State Water Project agencies that receive exported water from the Delta, delivered by pumps near Tracy into the South Bay Aqueduct that serves locals here as well as customers in Fremont and the South Bay. More than 2.7 million Bay Area residents rely on the imported water. In a normal water year, 80 percent of the water Zone 7 delivers comes from the Delta.
When he was sworn in, Newsom indicated he may scrap the twin tunnels. He formally did so earlier this month when the Dept. of Water Resources withdrew its application to build the project. Newsom directed the department to move ahead with a single-tunnel. That process, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee, quoting Karla Nemeth, the DWR director, likely will take three years. Incidentally, Nemeth worked for Zone 7 on this project from 2005-2009 before moving to the state level to manage the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that included the tunnels.
For Zone 7 and other State Water Project agencies, it’s yet another delay and more uncertainty about the reliability of their water supply. One of the driving forces for the tunnel project is the ecosystem in the Delta is broken—people for and against the tunnel agree on that point. A core problem is the State Water Project was never finished—the Peripheral Canal defeated by voters in a statewide referendum in 1982, was supposed to allow the Delta to return to its natural flow patterns.
As is, water diverted from the east-west flow of the Sacramento River (flowing out of the Oroville and Shasta dams) to channels that move the water south to the pumps. The standard measure of the pumping pressure is how fast sloughs of the San Joaquin River are running backward—yes BACKWARD. Throw in the aging, decades-old levees that often are rock-lined channels and the natural Delta habitat is long gone.
The challenge for water managers and environmentalist alike is how to selectively restore habitat to ensure fisheries survive and are enhanced while maintaining a reliable water supply. The radical environmentalist notion that the state can conserve its way out of the problem is a pipe dream. Across the state, 27 million people, 68 percent of the population, rely on Delta-delivered water, although agriculture consumes about 80 percent of the Delta water.
Another key issue that effects the Delta is the lack of any new storage facilities. Back in 2014, state voters passed a $7.12 billion water bond measure that included $2.7 billion for storage. To date, no storage facility is under construction. One of the proposals is the so-called Sites Reservoir located in a rural valley south of Redding. It’s designed as off-stream storage so water can be diverted in during wet months and then released during the summer and fall.
It’s designed to work in tandem with Shasta Reservoir to preserve the cold waters of that huge facility so they can be released during prime spawning season for salmon. It’s been studied for more than 30 years, but still no shovel has been turned to start constructing a logical project without many opponents.
Stay tuned for more on this long-running debate.