Thursday, July 31, 2014
Criticisms of 35-mile tunnels under the Sacramento delta point to destruction of key habitats, loss of species existing only in California
"Delta tunnel plan called a fish death sentence by key group"2014-07-31 by Carolyn Jones for "San Francisco Chronicle" daily newspaper [http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Delta-tunnel-plan-blasted-by-key-environmental-5657902.php]:
The state's plan to build a pair of 35-mile tunnels under the delta would cause the extinction of winter-run chinook salmon, steep declines in dozens of other species and devastate water quality in San Francisco Bay, an environmental group said Wednesday.
"This project would be a major step in the wrong direction," said Gary Bobker, policy analyst for the Bay Institute, which submitted its 250-page findings this week to the state Department of Water Resources as it updates its Bay Delta Conservation Plan. "Diverting more water from the delta is exactly what we need to stop doing if we're going to have a sustainable ecosystem."
The state's $25 billion plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta calls for two 40-foot-wide tunnels to carry water from the northern end of the delta to the pumps at the southern end. The purpose is to improve water flow throughout the 1,100-square-mile delta; reduce reliance on old, crumbling levees; and potentially increase water allocations to farms and consumers in Central and Southern California.
But, according to the Bay Institute and other environmental groups, the tunnels will leave northern parts of the delta saltier, warmer and with less water - a death sentence for migrating fish, they said. The tunnels would also alter the makeup of San Francisco Bay because less cold freshwater would reach the Golden Gate.
To make up for the loss of habitat, the plan calls for more than 50,000 acres of wetland restoration, including floodplain habitat for salmon near the Yolo Bypass.
But the new wetlands won't be enough to compensate for the change in water quality, Bobker said. The new wetlands may be a boon for birds, but the most pressing need for salmon, sturgeon, longfin smelt and other fish is chilly water that flows from the Sierra snowpack to the Pacific, Bobker and his colleagues said.
'Circling the drain' -
"These species are already circling the drain. They don't have 20 or 30 years for us to see what works," said Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist at the Bay Institute who also worked on the report. "All of the chinook salmon would be very much harmed by this. They'd all see declines."
A consultant working on the state's delta plan agreed Wednesday that the northern delta will be saltier, warmer and more stagnant in years to come. But that's largely due to climate change, not the tunnels, the consultant said.
In fact, the plan would improve conditions for salmon by reducing the number sucked into the pumps and providing better water circulation throughout the region, she said.
The impacts of climate change need to be addressed separately, she said. The Bureau of Reclamation, among other agencies, is looking at broader issues related to water supplies and global warming.
The delta plan is backed by Gov. Jerry Brown as well as dozens of water agencies, cities and farming groups, mostly in Southern California. They say it's critical to the state's economy to upgrade its aging water infrastructure and provide a more stable supply of water for farms and development in the central and southern parts of the state.
A few Bay Area groups are also in support, including the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which supplies San Jose and parts of Silicon Valley, and the Alameda County Water District, which serves Fremont, Newark and Union City.
They also view it as a solution to environmental problems, such as inadequate water circulation and the volume of fish that get sucked into the pumps.
Impacts called overblown -
The Bay Institute's reading of the environmental impacts of the plan are overblown, said Nancy Vogel, spokeswoman for the Department of Water Resources. Water quality in San Francisco Bay would remain virtually unchanged, and salmon and other species should actually fare better than they do under the current conditions, she said.
"We wouldn't be doing this if it didn't benefit the salmon," she said. "And we've done extensive scientific analysis and concluded that the effects on San Francisco Bay would be minimal."
Dozens of environmental groups, water agencies and local governments filed responses to the delta plan's environmental impact report this week. The state will review the comments, update the report and eventually submit it to state and federal regulators who would issue the permits.
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance vehemently opposes the plan.
"This plan puts the estuary on a scaffold and the interests of south valley agriculture on a throne," said the group's director, Bill Jennings. "It's going to make the delta look like an Arkansas lake - warm water and no flow."
Longtime sport fisherman Doug Chance, a press operator from Antioch who was fishing from the Antioch pier Wednesday, said his cohorts from throughout Northern California are fighting the plan.
"The freshwater is already drying up. We used to catch catfish like crazy around here. Now we hardly ever see them," he said. "If they put these tunnels in, hell, I wouldn't be surprised if we started catching stingray and sharks up here. It's all messed up."