The California Natural Resources Agency on June put out another “fact sheet” extolling the virtues of the proposed California WaterFix (Delta Tunnels).
This new effort is entitled “Fast Facts” and like most of the claims made by tunnel proponents, it plays fast and loose with the facts.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the claims made in this new public relations effort...
CLAIM: Secure clean water supplies for 25 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland.
FACT: In reality, 70 percent of the water used from the Delta goes for large industrial agriculture in the Southwestern San Joaquin Valley that contributes just 0.3% to the state’s GDP.
CLAIM: Improve the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s ecosystem.
FACT: This claim ignores the scientific consensus and state law as outlined in the 2009 Delta Reform Act that less water must be exported from the Delta. In 2010, the State Water Resources Control Board agreed, finding the Delta can safely share 2.5 to 3.5 million acre feet of water, not 4.9 million acre feet.
CLAIM: An update to California’s aging water delivery system and part of the state’s overall water management portfolio, which includes conservation, groundwater management, recycling, ecosystem protection and more.
FACT: Tunnel opponents support conservation, groundwater management, recycling, ecosystem protection projects and don’t want $15+ million wasted on a Tunnels project that does none of those things. The Delta Tunnels is an expensive boondoggle conceived in the 1960s and rejected by California voters in 1982. It depends on continuing to deliver Sierra snowpack from Northern California to farms in the Southern San Joaquin Valley, even though climate scientists have warned use to expect less snowfall and more rain in the future, just like we have seen over the last decade.
CLAIM: 2 tunnels up to 150’ below ground designed to protect California’s water supplies from sea level rise, earthquakes, floods and levee failure.
FACT: As sea level rises, more, not less water needs to flow through the Delta estuary to prevent saltwater intrusion. The Delta Tunnels will reduce the amount of fresh water needed to protect drinking water for Delta communities and Delta farmers.
CLAIM: 3 new northern intakes, each with 3,000 cubic-feet per second (cfs) capacity, located farther upstream closer to higher quality water and reduced impact on fish habitats.
FACT: Taking more fresh water out of the Northern Delta will only increase salinity, toxics, and algal blooms in the SF Bay-Delta estuary.
CLAIM: Continue to meet San Francisco Bay outflow requirements to protect against salt water intrusion and improve the overall health of the Delta ecosystem.
FACT: Unsustainable amounts of fresh water are already being taken out of the Delta, pushing its fragile and overtaxed ecosystem to the verge of collapse. The Delta Tunnels would continue this practice, not reduce water exports as required by the 2009 Delta Reform Act.
CLAIM: New location away from habitat of endangered species with advanced fish screens that protect even the smallest species
FACT: The tunnels would steal massive amounts of more fresh water and send it to southern California cities and Central Valley agriculture, harming protected species in the North Delta including salmon.
CLAIM: Securing Clean Water Supplies: Enough to supply 10 million households with water for one year
FACT: But that’s not where the water is going. Only 30 percent of water exported from the Delta goes to cities in the Bay Area, the South Coast, and Southern California. Big Ag on the west and south side of the San Joaquin Valley will get about 70 percent of Delta water, which often goes to grow water intensive almonds, cotton, and pistachios on unsustainable ‘desert’ farmland for lucrative overseas exports.
CLAIM: Project will deliver 4.9 Million Acre-Feet on Average Annually Creating and Protecting Jobs: Based on a year-by-year estimate
FACT: Jobs will not be saved from the Delta tunnels in Southern California and Silicon Valley because these areas will continue to receive water with or without the tunnels
CLAIM: 1.1 Million Full-Time Equivalent Jobs Created and Saved for California
FACT: Temporary jobs will be created during the construction of the tunnels but few long-term jobs in the maintenance of the project. The tunnels are a poor public works project creating just 5 jobs per million spent, whereas water conservation creates 10-20 jobs per million spent.
CLAIM: Boosting the Economy: $400 Billion in Contributions by to California’s Economy by Delta-Conveyed Water
FACT: This is a highly dubious figure. CA WaterFix never evaluated the economic value of freshwater to the San Francisco Bay, coastal fisheries worth billions, the $5.2 billion Delta agriculture economy, tourism and the 4 million people who live in the Delta counties.
CLAIM: WaterFix is an upgrade to the state’s 50-year-old water infrastructure that will make it easier to move water in an environmentally friendly manner. The current system is outdated and unreliable, and dependent on levees that put our clean water supply at risk from earthquakes and sea level rise.
FACT: The Delta Tunnels would take out more fresh water through the tunnels and draw the Bay’s saltier water into the northern Delta. With less water flowing through the Delta, the water would also be much warmer which harms protected fish species.
CLAIM: Three north Delta intakes closer to the original Sierra Nevada mountain source where water quality is higher and impacts to fish are lower. The addition of the new intakes offer increased flexibility to operate in conjunction with the existing system to maximize exports while meeting environmental and water quality standards.
FACT: Every attempt to build an environmental impact report proving these claims has failed so far. The planning for the Delta Tunnels to date lacks modeling that proves this claim. ‘Maximizing exports” is in direct contradiction to state law which says Delta water exports must be reduced.
CLAIM: Gravity-fed underground tunnels improve operation and maintenance; protect clean water supplies from salt water intrusion due to sea level rise, earthquakes, floods and levee failure; and improve long-term reliability by reducing internal tunnel pressure.
FACT: The Delta is not in an earthquake zone. There are no historic records of massive levee failure due to an earthquake. If an imaginary faultline did rupture beneath the Delta, it would certainly destroy the Delta Tunnels as well. This is perhaps the most despicable and fear mongering claim made by tunnel proponents.
CLAIM: Combined pumping facility located on existing state-owned property at Clifton Court Forebay to reduce environmental and construction impacts.
FACT: Building the tunnels and redesigning the pumps at Clifton Forbay will have significant construction impacts for more than a decade.
CLAIM: Flows and Water Quality will be Protected: To ensure adequate Delta flows for water quality and fish, Sacramento River exports are restricted based on many factors.
FACT: If climate scientists are correct, the lack of snow expected in the future will mean less fresh water flow to protect water quality in the Delta. To protect water quality, these expensive tunnels will remain empty a majority of the time.
CLAIM: WaterFix Cost & Funding will total $17.1 Billion
FACT: Government officials say the CA WaterFix tunnels will cost $17 billion for construction, but as with big public infrastructure projects such as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and Seattle’s Bertha project (the largest tunnel-boring machine); initial cost estimates always rise enormously. CA WaterFix tunnels cost estimates don’t include bond interest or cost over-runs. A more realistic estimate is $60 billion when interest, administration, research, operation, and maintenance fees are taken into account.
CLAIM: WaterFix is guided by the best available science and public input
FACT: The state and federal environmental agencies who are required to issue permits for the Delta Tunnels will decide that. So far, no permits have been issued and the EPA has found the Recirculated Draft EIR to be “inadequate” (a failing grade.)
CLAIM: The project will allow adaptive management & collaborative science: Address uncertainties and make adjustments over time
FACT: Constantly adapting management of the Delta without providing needed fresh water flow has proven ineffective since the1970s. When maximizing exports is the prime directive, fish suffer. Threatened and endangered fish species have subject to long-term human-induced drought conditions that have reduced fish populations and limited their chances for their recovery.
CLAIM: WaterFix will benefit the Delta ecosystem: The new location and technology will minimize reverse flows and reduce impacts to endangered fish. It will maintain water quality and standards needed for a healthy Delta ecosystem.
FACT: The tunnels could grab up to 2/3 of the flow of the Sacramento River, which is where the main supply of fresh water in the Delta comes from.
CLAIM: WaterFix will contribute to the restoration and protection of approximately 15,600 acres of critical Delta habitat as mitigation for ongoing construction and operational impacts, in addition to restoring more natural Delta flow patterns.
FACT: Continuing to maximize exports of fresh water from the Delta will not help restore natural Delta flow patterns. In the original BDCP Tunnels plan, 100,000 acres were to be restored. In the 2015 WaterFix/EcoRestore, only 30,000 acres were to be protected, most of that under previous court order. This new figure of 15,600 is even more disheartening.