FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, September 30, 2013
Contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; [email protected]; Twitter: @shopcraft; @MrSandHillCrane; Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053 [email protected]; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta
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River News-Herald and Isleton Journal
DWR hosts exclusive twin tunnels project tour for Southern California media
By Galen Kusic, Editor
Published September 25, 2013
Transparency isn’t necessarily the strongest suit of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, although they’d like the public to believe so.
After word got around that DWR officials would be taking a select group of southern California journalists on a tour of the proposed intake facilities on the Sacramento River – the RNH had to tag along and see what it was all about.
With limited information, RNH staff took off down Highway 160 to hopefully run into a tour bus around 9:30 a.m. Monday. That quest seemed to be all but a failure after checking in Clarksburg to no avail. However, on the way back across the river on the Freeport Bridge, the bus appeared and the RNH gave pursuit to follow what was sure to be an insightful and informative tour of where the exact intake locations would be on the east side of the river.
Instead, the bus slowed by the first intake across the river from Clarksburg near Scribner Bend Winery, but did not stop. The tour continued to the town of Hood, where the bus stopped at the south end of town, just past the second intake location, but no one got off the bus. The amount of “Stop the tunnels” signs on Highway 160 has increased ten-fold, as one is located at nearly every residence along the river.
Finally, the third intake location did not receive a stop – as the bus flew by Randall Island Road, home to Greene and Hemly and some of the finest pears on the planet.
After talking to Delta Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and journalist Bill Wells, there was a group consisting of Jane Wagner-Tyack and Rogene Reynolds from Restore the Delta waiting for the bus at the Delta Cross Channel with “BDCP = Fraud” signs and information about the project for southern California journalists.
Department of Water Resources Public Affairs Director Nancy Vogel granted Wells’ request to enter the Delta Cross Channel fenced off area for the presentation, and the RNH followed. From there, DWR engineer and lead engineer for BDCP conveyance Gordon Enos spoke about how the project’s realignment has reduced the impact on local communities by over half by reaching out to stakeholders and taking comments from environmental agencies.
“What we’ve tried to do is move the project off private property as much as possible and incorporate as much state or publicly owned property as possible,” said Enos. “That’s the plan now.”
Enos explained that much of the staging and construction areas were moved in light of disturbance to local communities. He explained discussions with Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge led to the modifications of BDCP and tunnel realignment.
“There was a concern that many of these original spots were foraging areas for Sandhill Cranes,” said Enos.
He conveyed that by avoiding this location, construction periods would be less damaging to the crane’s foraging areas. He reiterated the changes to the intermediate forebay’s location and reduction in size, He explained that the need for larger 40-foot diameter tunnels was spurned from the priority for water to flow by gravity instead of using exorbitant amounts of power to pump the water south.
The intermediate forebay’s location is now further east near Glanville Tract. This of course is old news to those in the Delta, but apparently southern California reporters had not heard this information before, or DWR was set on making the new plans absolutely clear.
“It’s really a big pipeline,” said Enos. “Tunnels are already used to move water. The next effort is to drill to 200 feet to evaluate the sub-surface conditions. There are gas wells in the vicinity of the tunnel alignment and there are groundwater issues.”
Deputy Director of the Delta and Statewide Water Management Paul Helliker explained that no final decisions have been made, and that the next year will be critical to the project’s success and ultimately implementation.
“The range of alternatives are in there, from no project all the way to a 15,000 cfs facility,” said Helliker.
Former DWR employee and Metropolitan Water District Consultant Curt Schmutte explained some of the history of the Delta Cross Channel since its inception in 1953. He noted that it was designed to increase water quality in the south Delta, and that when the gates are closed to improve winter-run salmon populations – it is detrimental to south Delta water quality.
He discussed that 98 percent of the Delta’s historical wetlands have been destroyed since the Delta was reclaimed in the mid 1800’s. He claims that BDCP would restore ¼ of those wetlands, in essence over 100,000 acres of wetland habitat. His presentation included maps of the Delta and the historical ecology of the region.
“Back in the 1800’s, the Delta was a very wild place,” said Schmutte. “I think a big part of what has happened to the Delta is we’ve lost a lot of habitat…Once the tunnels are in, you can put more habitat down in the south Delta.”
He explained that some of the property needed for habitat restoration in the BDCP would have to be acquired through eminent domain, but that would be a minimal amount of the total restoration area.
Schmutte then went on to blame striped bass as a major factor for the decimation of the salmon population, and that when striped bass are cut open, one could find many baby salmon inside. This science has been disputed heavily, especially in last year’s landmark decision by the then Department of Fish and Game Commission to uphold the current striped bass size fishing requirements.
Wells questioned Schmutte on this issue, citing that stripers and salmon lived in harmony for many years before the massive increase in water diversions from the Delta at the Tracy pumps to the California Aqueduct.
“I have good friends that are some of the top scientists in the Bay-Delta estuary,” said Schmutte. “It is of their opinion that when the Delta was levied off and drained, 98 percent of the habitat was lost. It put these species on life support to where any little nick, cut; stressor on the ecosystem may send them over the edge. It wasn’t that some of these stressors (water pollutants) might not be the primary cause. It’s the original loss of habitat. It was that little nudge over the edge that sent these populations into decline. Our monitoring shows that these salmon are getting eaten.”
Wells then talked about the near complete loss of flow to the San Joaquin River, and that invasive plants have taken over in light of that.
“You’d think increasing the flow to the river there would eliminate some of that,” said Wells.
Helliker didn’t answer that question, as Vogel came up and told him it was time to move on to the next stop on the tour, but not before The RNH asked Hellicker about possible effects to Sandhill Cranes on Staten Island, the new route for the proposed tunnels.
“Roosting habitat will be temporarily affected, but not much,” said Helliker. “Our commitment is that we will not have any production on crane use days on Staten Island, so that we will be increasing food production so they’re not going to lose any foraging habitat. There are other places where we will be restoring habitat, so overall actually it’s going to end up being more habitat for cranes – even if Staten Island isn’t the place it will be.”
As the RNH followed the tour to Staten Island, the bus stopped at the plant right at the entrance to the Sandhill Crane Preserve. There, California Director of Fish and Wildlife Chuck Bonham met the group and gave a talk about the importance of protecting the 57 covered species in the BDCP.
Bonham noted that the Delta is the most “tampered with” estuary in the United States, and has experienced hindering factors to an ecosystem that has all but been eradicated over the years.
“It’s nothing like it once was,” he said. “The science is pretty clear – this Delta is the most degraded in the nation.”
Bonham then hashed out the kinds of habitat restoration that will take place, all information that has been readily available on the BDCP website and in the released chapters. His main focus of the talk was that protecting species needs to be held to a “higher legal standard” to insure that species survive.
“We know habitat restoration can work,” he said.
Bonham talked about the importance of guiding DWR in the right direction to make this project a reality, which includes four elements of the conservation plan that he feels holds promise. One of those includes a multi-species approach. Recent incremental changes to protect certain species only works for a few years and then other changes must be made. Thus, the critical situation goes back to square one.
“We have to do what we can to get the animals healthy, abundant, self-sufficient and taken off the endangered species list,” he said.
The south Delta pumps are continually a topic of conversation, and Bonham conceded that two out of three fish are killed at the pumps in that area of Clifton Court Forebay. He noted that there is a 60 percent salmon mortality rate on the Sacramento River, and 90 percent on the San Joaquin.
“These are driven by the effects of the south Delta pumps,” he said. “It creates an unnatural flow regime. We have to get off relying on the south Delta pumps as much as possible.”
Part of that is working with local communities more to get better outreach, and utilizing an inter-agency “SWAT” team approach to make sure there is as much cooperation and collaboration as possible. He also conceded the question of funding for the project is a good one, and that the majority of conveyance would come from the State Water Contractors and the habitat restoration would largely come from the public through a water bond.
“There is a measure of uncertainty,” he said. “There is a lack of financial commitment – who gets how much water.”
Lastly, he talked about the importance of adaptive management and that often those who design projects are not the same as who implements them – leaving confusion and a result that is less than desirable.
Brett Baker, sixth generation farmer from Sutter Island spoke about his moral obligation to not take job offers with Westlands Water District or the Nature Conservancy because it goes against his values of protecting the Delta. He then gave out business cards to journalists in attendance to give them “the real story” if they wished to seek it out.
As the tour was about to head to Twitchell Island, the RNH asked Director Bonham about the Sandhill Cranes on Staten Island and the impacts that the tunnels would have to their current foraging areas, just yards away from where the tour took place.
“We’re looking at that. The overall plan proposes 7,000 acres of foraging habitat,” said Bonham. “50 acres are at risk. We want there to be no net loss.”
He explained that the south side of the island has the potential for new habitat, but that a drainage problem could get in the way. Regardless, he emphasized that more habitat must be created for these majestic birds.