Environmental groups sue to stop governor’s twin tunnels
June 17, 2013
• Say Delta Plan fails to fix Delta’s problems
• “No serious benefit cost analysis was ever conducted”
• UPDATED with statement from Delta Stewardship Council
A coalition of fishing, environmental and farming groups is suing the Delta Stewardship Council over its “Delta Plan,” which they contend is stalking horse to clear the way for Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans to siphon off part of the Sacramento River before it can flow naturally into the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta.
The water would flow through massive, 35-mile long twin tunnels buried beneath the heart of the Delta to empty into the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project irrigation systems.
“The Delta Reform Act gave the Delta Stewardship Council a historic opportunity to remedy 40 years of water policy failures. The council instead failed to use the best available science – biological or economic -- and adopted a status quo program that fails to fix the Delta or the water supply problem,” says Santa Barbara resident Carolee Krieger, executive director of the California Water Impact Network, a statewide water advocacy organization.
The lawsuit, filed Monday morning in San Francisco County Superior Court, seeks a court order to directing the California Delta Stewardship Council to vacate its approval of the Delta Plan.
This is the fourth lawsuit against the Delta Plan, including one file last week by the state water contractors. Last week the State Water Contractors sued the Council, saying in part that the Delta Plan includes policies that would give the DSC discretion that exceeds the Legislature’s express grant of jurisdiction.
Chris Knopp, executive officer of the Delta Stewardship Commission, expressed disappointment that his agency and its plan were the targets of so many lawsuits so quickly.
"Our intent is to fully defend the Delta Plan. We believe that actual accomplishment and progress is what’s required to change the status quo, and the flexible nature of the Delta Plan is a preferable option to the litigation and inaction that California has endured for the past 50 years," Mr. Knopp says.
"Some are suing us for using the powers they believe we were not given by the Legislature; others for not using the powers they believe we were given. Environmental groups want us to be more restrictive; water agencies believe we’re too restrictive," he says. "The Plan, however, actually walks the very careful line specified in the Delta Reform Act."
If built, the tunnels would increase diversions of freshwater upstream from the Delta “resulting in adverse environmental impacts as a result of reducing the flushing of San Francisco Bay by outflows from the Sacramento River and Delta,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says the Delta Stewardship Council has violated the state Administrative Procedure Act, the Delta Reform Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and the Public Trust doctrine.
Ms. Krieger says the Council has “caved” to powerful commercial interests and ignored simple arithmetic that too much water has been pledged compared to the amount of water nature creates in California. Claims on water now amount to five times more than is normally available.
“No serious benefit cost analysis was ever conducted. This appears deliberate,” she says.
Adam Lazar, Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco, says the plan “is bad news” for endangered wildlife in the Delta.
The Delta Stewardship Council has “failed to analyze the economic impact” of the plan and the twin tunnels, says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla executive director of Restore the Delta. “They failed to conduct a benefit-cost analysis.”
Ms. Barrigan-Parrilla says the tunnels appear to be a “retread” of Mr. Brown’s 1983 plan to build a peripheral canal to take Sacramento River water around the Delta. She says whether it’s a canal or a tunnel plan, it reflects 19th Century thinking and ignores the reality of the amount of water actually available.