FresnoBee Editorial..If Gov. Jerry Brown had his way, the tunneling machines would be boring right now under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, carving out space for two 40-foot-wide tunnels to ship Sacramento River water to cities and irrigation districts south of the Delta.
But things aren’t going well for Brown’s project, which is part of the 6-year-old Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Earlier this month, federal fish agencies again raised concerns about the project’s impact on imperiled salmon and other species.
In particular, the National Marine Fisheries Service warned that, combined with climate change, the tunnel’s diversions could contribute to the extinction of winter-run chinook salmon in the Sacramento River. The agency’s letter alarmed water contractors, some of which were already leery of further investments in BDCP.
Brown has since sent a letter to the U.S. secretaries of interior and commerce, calling on them to marshal forces to release an environmental impact statement and Federal Register notice on the project this summer. We agree that federal officials need to step up on BDCP, but not in the way Brown proposes. What is really needed is for the Obama administration to address some of the gaping flaws in BDCP. These include:
• Sidelined stakeholders. From the start, BDCP’s approach has been to tell Delta and Northern California stakeholders that a canal or tunnel will be built, with input from them as an afterthought. That’s hardly a way to negotiate a pact that will settle decades of water battles, restore the ecosystem and provide water reliability.
• South of Delta storage. Tunnels or no tunnels, the only way to ensure more reliable water supplies for San Joaquin Valley agriculture is to store more big gulps of water in wet years. These gulps could go into groundwater storage, or expansion of existing surface storage, such as the San Luis reservoir.
• Alternatives to big tunnels. A coalition of environmental groups, water agencies and other interests is pressing BDCP to honestly examine a single tunnel instead of two, south of Delta storage and more emphasis on conservation.
We and many others have made some or all of these points before. As long as they go unheard by the Brown administration, the opposition to BDCP will grow, and grow and grow.