Groups Charge Delta Tunnels Plan with Violating Clean Water Act

Environmental and fishing groups on October 7 alerted the Federal and State agencies responsible for issuing permits before any construction of the Delta Tunnels can start that the controversial project will violate the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

A 15-page letter from the groups documents multiple violations of the landmark CWA if the project is built and operated as described in the EIR/EIS for the “California Water Fix, formerly known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) under public review until October 30, 2015.

The groups signing the letter include Restore the Delta, Earth Law Center, Friends of the River, the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Water Impact Network, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, and the Environment Water Caucus (a coalition of over 30 nonprofit environmental and community organizations and California Indian Tribes.)

“The BDCP Delta Water Tunnels project is not a permissible project under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) because it would degrade water quality in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary,” the letter warns federal officials. “This in turn will adversely impact numerous recognized beneficial uses and public health. The Water Tunnels project will require a Clean Water Act Section 401 certification, it cannot legally be given one since it will not comply with established water quality standards.”

On September 9, 2015 the coalition sent a similar letter outlining the provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act that the Delta Tunnels will violate, according to a joint press release from the groups.

That letter found, “The BDCP Delta Water Tunnels project is not a permissible project under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because it would adversely modify critical habitat for at least five endangered and threatened fish species.”

The Delta Independent Science Board has also found the tunnels plan “lacking.”  In a scathing review sent to Randy Fiorini, Chair, Delta Stewardship Council and Charlton Bonham, Director, California Department of Fish and Wildlife on September 30, 2015, the Delta Science Board found:

“The Current Draft lacks key information, analyses, summaries, and comparisons. The missing content is needed for evaluation of the science that underpins the proposed project. Accordingly, the Current Draft fails to adequately inform weighty decisions about public policy.” 

Today’s letter concludes that by rejecting permits for the Delta Tunnels project, these agencies still have a chance to “restore and enhance the integrity and health of the Bay-Delta Estuary by adopting (at a minimum) sufficient flows to support healthy fish species and Delta habitats. Moreover, the time is overdue to establish a comprehensive instream water rights program that ensures the longevity of the Delta ecosystem and species, and serves as a model for the state as a whole.”

Representatives from the groups commented about the significance of the letter.

“The Tunnels plan ignores the inherent rights of rivers to flow. They instead create infrastructure that will create pressure to drain every drop,” said Linda Sheehan, Executive Director of Earth Law Center. “California must follow the Clean Water Act and ensure that its actions protect waterways and species now, or risk losing them forever. Environmental, fishing and tribal groups have recommended numerous solutions that comply with the law, respect nature’s rights, and meet our water needs now and in the future.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta said, “Four million people in the five Delta counties depend on good water quality in the Delta for their livelihoods and quality of life. Nearly one million Delta residents depend on the Delta as their primary drinking water supply. To improve the Delta as a fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable region will require protecting and enhancing the Estuary’s water quality, pure and simple. The Delta tunnels will denigrate water quality for all these uses and thus fails as a project. We can’t meet water needs south of the Delta, by ruining water quality for the millions of people who live in the Bay-Delta estuary.”

“The Water Tunnels are not the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) required by the Clean Water Act. The Tunnels are instead the most environmentally damaging alternative possible for Delta water quality and the people of the Delta,” according to Robert Wright, Friends of the River Senior Counsel.

Tim Stroshane, policy analyst with Restore the Delta, said, “The Tunnels Project’s own data show it will worsen the water situation in the Delta. Fresh water flows will decrease, stagnation will ensue, pollutants like pesticides, selenium, mercury, boron, and bromides will accumulate. People accustomed to fishing for their food in the Delta will find it a greater health risk to do so. The Tunnels Project would also increase toxic algal blooms, even in non-drought years.”

Ironically, on the same day the letter was sent, Governor Jerry Brown, in yet one more photo opportunity to portray himself as the “Green Governor,” joined government, climate, business, environmental justice and community leaders in Los Angeles to sign SB 350 by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

While Jerry Brown grandstands about “green energy” and “climate change” in conferences and photo opportunities in California and across the globe and his admirers praise him as a “climate leader,” he has in fact promoted the expansion of the environmentally destructive practice of fracking in the state and the construction of the salmon-killing Delta Tunnels.

And fracking and the tunnels are just two of the many environmentally devastating policies of the Brown administration. Brown has promoted water policies that have driven salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt and other fish to the edge of extinction; presided over record water exports out of the Delta in 2011; backs the clearcutting of forests in the Sierra Nevada; and is a strong supporter of neo-liberal carbon trading policies that routinely promote environmentally ineffective and socially unjust projects across the globe. He also fast-tracked the creation of tainted “marine protected areas,” crafted under the oversight of a Big Oil lobbyist, that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, offshore oil drilling, oil spills, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.