Final environmental impact report for Delta Tunnel project slated for release in 'late 2023'

By Dan Bacher | 

In an announcement, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reported that it is “still on track” to issue a Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Delta Conveyance Project — the Delta Tunnel - in “late 2023.”

No exact date for the release of the EIR was mentioned, but I guess that’s how the controversial agency operates.

“The Final EIR will describe potential environmental impacts, identify mitigation measures that would help avoid or minimize impacts and provide responses to all substantive comments received on the Draft EIR,” DWR claimed. “More information on the CEQA process for the proposed Delta Conveyance Project and other environmental compliance and permitting processes can be found on the project's permit portal website.”

The tunnel is opposed by a broad coalition of recreational and commercial fishing groups, Indian Tribes, environmental justice organizations, conservation groups, the five Delta Counties, family farmers, Delta residents and businesses, elected officials and Southern California ratepayers.

Delta United responded to the announcement in a tweet: “Hey #Delta peeps, @CA_DWR says it will release controversial #Tunnel Final EIR in late 2023. Guess it will make for great holiday reading while the consultants take their fancy vacations.”

The massive tunnel under the Delta would divert water from the Sacramento River before it flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta so it can be used by Central Valley corporate agribusiness and Southern California water agencies, resulting in making the current ecological crisis in the estuary even worse by depriving the Delta of water that salmon and other fish species need to survive and thrive, according to independent scientists and project opponents.

The proposed underground tunnel would be 45 miles long and 36 feet in diameter. It would feature 2 new intakes on the Sacramento in the North Delta near Hood with a capacity of 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for a total capacity of 6,000 cfs. A new pumping plant in the South Delta would connect the tunnel to the existing Bethany Reservoir on the California Aqueduct.

Delta smelt, Sacramento winter-run and spring-run Chinook, longfin smelt and other fish species are currently on the verge of extinction, due to massive federal and state water exports to Big Ag and Southern California water agencies by the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project. 

The CDFW's fall midwater trawl survey on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta hasn't found a single Delta smelt, once the most abundant fish on the entire Delta, in five years.

In 2021, estimated 19,773 out of the more than 21,580 spring chinooks that returned to spawn in Butte Creek, the last stronghold of spring run Chinook salmon in the Central Valley perished before spawning, while PG&E didn't release cold water from its hydroelectric project in time to save the fish.

Likewise, a record low number of winter-run Chinook fry made it down the Sacramento River to Red Bluff in 2022. An estimated 158,764 fry (baby salmon) made it from below Keswick Dam to Red Bluff in 2022 compared to an average number of 1.3 million winter Chinook salmon. This was the second consecutive year that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported alarmingly low numbers of Chinooks.

Sacramento River Chinook fall-run Chinook salmon populations have also collapsed, resulting in the closure of salmon fishing on the ocean and river waters of California. Salmon advocates say the collapse is the result of terrible water and fishery management by the state and federal governments.   

DWR also released “new materials” gushing about the supposed “benefits” of the Delta Tunnel, a 19th century “solution” to 21st century problems (see below).

One thing among many that these materials don’t address is how taking more water out of a river before it flows through the estuary would somehow further both the “co-equal goals” of “water supply reliability” and “ecosystem restoration.” I’ve been to meeting after meeting challenging DWR officials to provide one example in U.S. or world history where a project diverting more water out of a river or estuary resulted in restoring the river or ecosystem. I have not yet received an answer to my question.  

New Materials

  • Digital Article: Why Modernizing Infrastructure Will Benefit Our Future Water Supply The State Water Project moves life-sustaining water across the state for 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. It supplies families, businesses, crops, and industries with safe and affordable water. Without modernization of our infrastructure, climate-driven weather extremes and seismic threats will affect how we can deliver this water, risking human health and safety, urban and agricultural economies, and the cost of water to communities.
  • Fact Sheet: Public Outreach and Engagement Overview. A robust outreach and engagement program is an important focus of proposed Delta Conveyance Project planning, underscoring the Department of Water Resources' (DWR) commitment to provide information that is easily accessible, be responsive and promote transparency.
  • Fact Sheet: Fast Facts. A compilation of quick project stats ranging from the importance of the State Water Project, key project features, water supply reliability, public review and public perceptions related to modernizing water infrastructure.

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