10/26/15: Proposed bay delta tunnels...

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Proposed bay delta tunnels will let in even more saltwater


By Gary Bobker and Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY RAN AS AN OPINION PIECE IN THE San Francisco Chronicle ON OCTOBER 26, 2015.
 

Whether walking the dog or riding a ferry full of awestruck tourists, every day Bay Area residents experience a national treasure — the San Francisco Bay Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

Many bay delta fish and wildlife species and habitats depend on the right mix of salty and freshwater to thrive. But too much saltwater is creeping east into the estuary as river flows are diverted for urban and agricultural use. As sea levels rise with climate change, the problem will get worse. Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed delta tunnels would grab up to half of the flow of the Sacramento River, water desperately needed to keep the ecosystem healthy.

Encroaching saltwater is the enemy of a healthy estuary, drinking water supplies and the $5.2 billion delta farm economy.

From the Golden Gate Bridge to Sacramento’s Tower Bridge to Weber Park in Stockton, the bay delta estuary supports the largest nursery for California fisheries and the largest Pacific Coast stop for migrating waterfowl. The bay delta also provides recreation, fishing, boating, tourism and more than 500,000 acres of California prime farmland. The region is home to 15 million people.

This July, with the drought in its fourth summer, state water officials said they were “struggling” to keep saltwater from pushing further inland. The state installed a $40 million pile of rocks called the False River Dam to keep saltwater back. Freshwater flowing through the bay delta would have kept the saltwater from intruding.

DELTA WATER TUNNEL PROJECT

Activists decry plan to cut habitat aid from tunnel project Gov. Jerry Brown, with Anne Gust Brown, walks to speak to the media after being reelected to a fourth term in front of the Governor's Mansion in Sacramento, California, November 4, 2014. Jerry Brown looks to solidify legacy with big state projects Legislature must not fund water tunnels through back door

To increase water deliveries to Central Valley farms, officials have used “emergency declarations” 15 times over the past three years to waive clean water standards, pushing native fish species closer to extinction than ever before.

So why dig two new 40-foot diameter tunnels under the delta to suck even more freshwater out of the system? The tunnels will degrade water quality for people, who live in or visit the bay delta, as well as endangered species and habitats.

Gov. Brown is committed to reducing California’s carbon footprint, so why is he proposing to expand our water footprint by increasing dependence elsewhere in the state on imported delta water?

The Delta Independent Science Board recently found the tunnel project’s Environmental Impact Report inadequate. “The Current Draft ... lacks completeness and clarity in applying science to far-reaching policy decisions.”

Instead of spending $15 billion to build the delta tunnels to send more Sacramento River water to grow almonds and hay for export, we should invest in projects that promote groundwater recharge, storm water capture, water recycling and an expansion of urban conservation projects that worked so well this year.

In 1982, the Peripheral Canal, which also sought to take more water from the delta and ship it south, was defeated by voters. But the public will not get to vote on the delta tunnels. Our only chance to speak up is by commenting on the delta tunnels environmental impact report by Friday.

One cannot hope to maintain a healthy estuary by taking more freshwater out of an already struggling habitat. With the effects of climate change increasing each year, we should protect the many benefits this estuary provides for humans and the environment.

Draining the bay delta of water — and life — is not the way to do it.

Gary Bobker is the rivers and delta program director for the Bay Institute. Barbara Barrigan- Parrilla is the executive director of Restore the Delta.

Weigh in

Mail your comments on the delta tunnels environmental impact report by Oct. 30 to:

BDCP/California WaterFix Comments

P.O. Box 1919

Sacramento, CA 95812

or e-mail BDCPComments@icfi.com