Butte County to haul DWR into court over governor’s tunnels
August 11, 2017
• Says governor’s water managers have made numerous missteps in planning giant tunnels
• Will ultimately damage the region’s economy, environment, and communities
The California Department of Water Resources is being sued for failing to comply with state water law.
The Butte County Board of Supervisors says DWR did not adequately assess the environmental and socioeconomic impacts posed by the so-called “California WaterFix,” the marketing name given to the proposed California Delta water tunnels project pushed by Gov. Edmund Gerald Brown Jr. and Southern California water interests.
The Board took this action to protect Butte County from the damage the massive project would have to Butte County’s economy, environment, and communities, it says.
The project would drain water from the Sacramento River before it could flow into the California Delta and pipe it underground about 35 miles to the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project systems. It would be essentially an underground version of the ill-fated Peripheral Canal, pushed by Mr. Brown in the 1980s. That was defeated by voters by a wide margin. This project, however, have been designed to avoid a vote.
The DWR certified the required California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) environmental analysis of the project on July 21. CEQA requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. The CEQA certification, Notice of Determination, and decision documents put the project a step closer to construction, which could begin as early as next year.
The Butte County Board of Supervisors submitted objections to the draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) in a September 13, 2016 letter. The Board of Supervisors found the EIR/EIS inadequately described the project and failed to fully assess the potential impacts.
Butte County’s list of concerns are more than legal technicalities and if ignored, the failures would lead to actions that will ultimately damage the region’s economy, environment, and communities, the Board says.
“Unfortunately, the [Brown] Administration has ignored every suggestion offered by Butte County,” the Board says, and seems is intent to move forward “with little regard to legal requirements or mitigating impacts.”
The true cost of the massive tunnel project has not been settled. While the state has put it at perhaps $15 billion, independent economist Jeffrey Michael has said it could be over $60 billion, once the cost of paying back loans is factored in. The water contractors that will initially pay for the project will recoup their costs by raising water rates.
“Sadly, there is a lot more money and environmental risk associated with the tunnels project that has been ignoring and/or suppressing economic analysis of the project,” Mr. Michael wrote this week in his online publication. In Wednesday’s issue, he said the tunnels would cause a $1 billion loss in the winter-run salmon industry alone.
Much of the salmon industry in the Pacici Ocean off the coasts of California and Oregon depends on the fish spawning in Central Valley rivers.
“The $1 billion cost is just for winter-run Chinook from operations. Thus, it does not include costs to winter-run Chinook from construction or consider impacts from both operations and construction on spring-run or fall-run salmon, steelhead or delta smelt. It would take more work (and help from biologists) to estimate values for these, but is not hard to see this adding up to a cost of several billion dollars from the ‘WaterFix’ tunnels,” Mr. Michael writes.