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Impacts of the Delta Tunnels Proposal: Our Testimony Before the State Water Board

Dear friends, 

Below you will find a press release with links to our testimony, we highly recommend that you read our case, which looks into statistics on Delta demographics and disproportionate impacts from the Delta Tunnels.  Also, in case you missed it, included in this post is a great story by The Record's Alex Brietler, highlighting some of the Stockton testimony that will go before the State Water Board. Our testimony would not be possible without your ongoing support, thank you! 


For Immediate Release: 9/2/2016

Trent Orr, Earthjustice, 415-217-2000
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, 209-479-2053 [email protected]

Impacts of Delta Tunnels Proposal
Delta community submits testimony to State Water Board hearing

Sacramento – Today Earthjustice, representing Restore the Delta, submitted detailed testimony from the communities that will be most affected by Governor Brown’s proposed $17 billion Delta Tunnels (CA WaterFix).
The California State Water Resources Control Board is currently holding hearings on permits for new water intakes on the Sacramento River to feed the Tunnels, intended to send vast quantities of fresh water south. The first two rounds of the hearings address potential impacts to legal water users in the Delta. The new permit was requested by the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the lead agencies for the proposed Delta Tunnels.
Trent Orr, staff attorney with Earthjustice said, “Today’s testimony comes from farmworkers, Native Americans, subsistence and recreational fishers, and residents of economically distressed Delta cities and towns who fear the Tunnels’ devastating impacts on their livelihoods and ways of life. Because the agencies promoting the Tunnels failed to consider their impacts on environmental justice populations, this testimony will be crucial in determining if the project would inflict undue harm on the most vulnerable legal water users in the Delta, including entire communities already experiencing distress.”
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the 40,000-strong Restore the Delta, said that the organization’s testimony shows:

• The proposed facilities are contrary to state water policy.
• The proposed facilities represent a new water right, not a mere change to existing water rights permits of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project.
• The project would alter flow and water quality with significant negative impacts on Delta agriculture and employment
• The petitioning agencies never estimated the size of the Delta’s environmental justice community (at least 100,000 residents), never surveyed their interests as legal users of water, nor proved that the Tunnels would not injure this community.
• The plan didn’t seriously consider the project’s impacts on drinking water for the city of Stockton.

A study by Restore the Delta policy analyst Tim Stroshane points out that the petition being considered by the State Water Board is actually for three NEW points of diversion, not simply a “change” in diversion location claimed by the lead agencies.

Stroshane argues the Tunnels “…would be a new method of diverting water under the Delta, rather than through it as presently permitted, and the [Tunnels] should be the subject of a new water right application.”
Impacted stakeholders from throughout the region highlighted the environmental justice concerns associated with this project. Here are some highlights:
Delta Farmworkers

Angelica Perez, a student at Sacramento Community College, has worked in agriculture since  age 15.  Without suitable water supply for the farms where her family works, “…we would be even more broke than we are now,” Perez explains. “We wouldn’t have any income.”
Julien Jimenez has worked in agriculture since he was a teenager. He dreams of running his own farm and is currently studying crop production at Cosumnes City College. “Everything my family does, everything I want to do is heavily reliant on water.”

Ixtzel Reynoso, a native of Clarksburg and a student at University of Pacific, conducted interviews with local farmworkers. She said of her own experience, “The environmental justice community will lose its livelihood if the flows of the Delta are compromised, their education will be detrimentally impacted, their hopes and dreams will be stalled, their wells will no longer pump drinkable water, and their jobs and homes will be lost.”
Subsistence Fishers
Xuily Lo was born and raised in North Stockton. The Lo family were refugees from the “Secret War in Laos.” The family depended on the fish they caught in the Delta, as one of their primary sources of food. Xuily has fished the Delta for 23 years. Xuily has noticed in recent years that fish weight and sizes have declined. Anglers are noticing increase salt water intrusion further into the delta and more sightings of sea species like leopard sharks and jellyfish are now seen in what used to be freshwater habitat.

Delta Businesses

Stocktonian Esperanza Vielma, a graduate of UC Berkeley, runs Café Coop, a non-profit cooperative incubator business for social entrepreneurs, freelancers, and artists in Stockton. Vielma testifies on numerous economic development projects underway in the Delta that bring healthy food to underserved environmental justice communities. These projects are all dependent upon “…maintaining and improving water quality in the Delta estuary,” she says.
Vielma also addresses the region’s farmer’s markets and restaurants, like the Mile Wine Company in Stockton, which is making a name for itself with farm-to-table food and local wines from the Delta region. Delta-based wineries and breweries as well depend on clean Delta water for their financial success.

Delta farmers also grow the wide variety of vegetables used by the region’s ethnic communities from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China, India and Latin America.
Gary Mulcahy, government liaison with the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, a Native California Tribe, describes the long history of broken promises and outright violence directed at his tribe by the state and federal governments. “The original construction of the Shasta Dam flooded over 90 percent of the Winnemem Wintu village sites, sacred sites, burial sites, and cultural gathering sites along the Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers.”
Mulcahy describes the tribe’s cultural and spiritual connection to salmon and fears that the Delta Tunnels will continue the destruction of the Delta ecosystem. “You must consider how fragile the Delta ecosystem and estuary already is from years of water diversions and drought, and you must consider the state of our salmon fisheries, with some species, like the winter-run, on the very edge of extinction.”
Fisherman Roger Mammon has lived his entire 71 years in the San Francisco Bay-Delta region. He says, “As a sportsman I have watched the Delta die a slow death as its life-giving blood, water, is removed from the ecosystem in astonishing amounts, leaving the Delta ecosystem a terrible mess… I once watched salmon roll on the surface of the Sacramento River as they moved upstream to spawn. I used to witness salmon and steelhead smolt jump out of the water as they make their way downstream to the ocean. This cycle-of-life experience is now a rare occurrence in the West Delta where I live … I am directly affected as a legal user of water, as the sporting activities I enjoy are being decimated by the diversion of clean water for other purposes and will be further severely injured should the petition be granted and the Twin Tunnels constructed.”
Water Quality
On the question of the Tunnels’ impacts on water quality, Restore the Delta’s policy analyst Tim Stroshane, testifies, “If the Petitioners’ modeling results submitted to date are deemed credible, then they would provide evidence supporting a conclusion that Petition Facilities would alter flows and water quality in the Delta sufficient to cause harm to legal users of water, as well as cause water quality objective violations and degradation.”
Delta Cities

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said the Tunnel proponents have:

“…ignored or downplayed health risks to safe drinking water and subsistence fishing, including Stockton’s drinking water source, and the risk of increased carcinogens that can be generated from disinfection byproducts as well as harmful algal blooms. These communities depend on access to a safe, good quality drinking water supplies and on consumption of local fish. These are critical components of an accessible and healthy diet for these economically disadvantaged communities.  As such, they should not be put at risk.”


In light of all the impacts the Tunnels would have on Delta residents, Restore the Delta suggests that the State Water Board:

1. Deny the change petition because it violates a California law mandating a reduced reliance on Delta water exports.
2. Should the Board consider the Petition, it should require a new petition appropriately designated as one seeking a new water right, not simply a change in a current water right.
3. Develop appropriate flow criteria for the Bay-Delta Estuary that address the flow criteria requirements of the Delta Reform Act of 2009 and reduces reliance on the Delta water exports.

Additional Resources:
Earthjustice blog: Two Tunnels Too Many
Link to full testimonies
In case you missed it… 
The Record
Arguing Stockton's case against Delta tunnels plan

By Alex Brietler
September 1, 2016
Read the story.


“Having less water in the Delta is a concern,” said Firpo, who co-owns “In Season” with local landscaper Julie Morehouse. “Look at the Delta now. It’s a disaster. If water quality is degraded enough, and you’re using water that comes out of the Delta to water your crops, that’s a flat-out threat.”

He’s talking about Gov. Jerry Brown’s $15 billion Delta tunnels, which would divert some water away from the Delta in an effort to help endangered fish and stabilize a share of the state’s water supply. Firpo is one of a handful of Stockton business owners and activists who will file formal written testimonies Friday as opponents prepare to argue why regulators should not allow the tunnels to be built.

The testimonies, to be part of Stockton-based Restore the Delta’s broader case against the tunnels later this fall, attempt to show how everyday residents could be affected by a project that sometimes seems far-off and distant, the domain of water wonks and environmentalists.

Wes Rhea, CEO of Visit Stockton, wonders what will happen to water quality at the downtown waterfront, already plagued with algae and hyacinth on a yearly basis.

“Nobody wants to ‘visit Stockton’ surrounded by polluted waterways,” Rhea wrote in his own testimony.

Paul Marsh, owner of Mile Wine Company on the Miracle Mile, warned that if local agriculture suffered, so would his restaurant, which relies upon locally grown food. And University of the Pacific student Ixtzel Reynoso shared her worries about the fate of disadvantaged Delta farmworkers.

Opponents also plan to emphasize Stockton’s demographic struggles — low income levels, jobless rates and more — as well as the plight of environmentally vulnerable residents. That includes the Southeast Asians who sustain themselves by eating Delta fish, and those who live in impoverished “food deserts” where grocery stores are not available.

Critics also will claim that deteriorating water quality at Stockton's new Delta drinking water plant could force future rate increases. All in all, poor water quality from the tunnels would amount to “environmental blunt trauma to a region on the threshold of recovery,” wrote Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta’s director.

All of this will be presented to the State Water Resources Control Board, which is in the middle of a months-long hearing that could make or break the tunnels plan.

To win approval, the state Department of Water Resources and other proponents must demonstrate that the tunnels won’t harm other water users.

Leave a Comment

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • September 4, 2016, 2:55 pm

    The Gallinas Watershed Council just adopted this statement:
    The Gallinas Creek Watershed in Marin County is part of the greater San Francisco/San Pablo Bay watersheds, all of which are influenced by the Delta Estuary, “the largest and most unique estuary on the Pacific Coast of the Americas.” The health of our larger watershed is greatly dependent on the health of the Delta and on a viable supply of fresh water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Exports of fresh water must not be at the expense of the health of the Delta Estuary, its wildlife habitats, its fish, and its many human activities.
    We oppose the California Water Fix and its proposed Twin Tunnels Plan, which fails to increase fresh water supplies or reduce demand.
    Stopping the Twin Tunnels and advocating for the implementation of the Environmental Water Caucus’ (EWC) Sustainable Water Plan for California is in alignment with our mission statement, namely to “connect the people who live and work in Las Gallinas Valley with their creek and watershed; advance local conservation action; and promote watershed restoration, protection and education.”
    The Gallinas Watershed Council strongly supports the Vision Statement of the EWC’s Sustainable Water Plan as an alternative to the Twin Tunnels plan.
    -California must respect and adjust to meet the natural limits of its waters and waterways, including the limits imposed by climate change. 
    -California must overhaul its existing piecemeal water rights policies, which already over-allocate existing water and distribute rights without regard to equity. 
    -California’s ecosystems and the life they support have a right to clean water and to exist and thrive for their own benefit and the benefit of future generations. 
    The GWC strongly supports the 13 recommendations summarized in the EWC Water Plan especially:
    – Implement the EWC Sustainable Water Plan as an alternative to the BDCP twin tunnels. 
    – Reduce Delta exports to no more than 3 million acre feet of water in all years. 
    The GWC believes that this multi-year drought is an opportunity that must not be squandered to sustainably address our water allocation in an efficient, ecologically sound, and equitable manner consistent with California law.
    Respectfully submitted,
    Dan Monte, Delta Committee Chair
    Gallinas Watershed Council

    • Restore the Delta
      September 6, 2016, 5:30 pm

      Thank you Gallinas Watershed Council!

  • Doug Gawoski
    September 4, 2016, 9:32 pm

    As a long time resident of San Rafael, I have seen the fishing decline in San Pablo Bay as more water was diverted out of the Delta. The Bay Delta plan needs to be updated with new environmental impact reports and fresh water flows increased to protect endangered species, and provide for sustainable fisheries and farming.
    I would also point out that San Pablo and San Francisco Bay are part of the delta and used to be brackish water for a majority of the year. As the fresh water has been sucked out, the total area of brackish water has moved upstream and decreased. This has reduced the area of this important brackish water habitat to a small narrow stretch of Delta were before it extended over a larger bay expanse. Pollution in the Delta and bay is less diluted by fresh water inflows. Species that live all or part of thier lives in brackish water have moved upstream and have decreased in numbers. At the same time salt water predominant fish species like halibut which previously were found in the central bay near Angel Island now are common in the lower part of San Pablo Bay. Salmon runs are in dire strait not only because of Delta pumping but also from habitat loss and degradation both upstream and in the Ocean.
    With all the environmental problems, how can water exports that hurt one community be proposed to benefit distant nut orchard farmers that export most of their crop to foreign countries? Follow the money and look at contributions from big agricultural corporation superpacs to politicians. As usual, generations of tax payers will be paying the bill.

  • Bobby Garris Johnson
    September 5, 2016, 11:33 pm

    I have lived around the Delta off and on for 47 years, I have noticed less water in the canals and the smell from less water is embarrassing! My Dad had lived on Finck road till He died in 1998,IT never smelled! He lived about 500 feet from the canal by His House. Please tell Governor Brown to leave the Delta alone!

  • December 30, 2016, 8:29 pm

    I have read the postings with an open mind. It appears this organization has the right approach to saving our Delta. As a past resident of Bethel Island, and current property owner in Oakley my family has enjoyed the many recreational aspects of this region. I now live in Los Banos and am loosely connected to the political structure here. That said I here from many in the Ag business talking how MWD will supply their needs after these tunnels are completed. I caution them that when push comes to shove (low water flows from drought) they (MWD) will divert water to So Cal bypassing them to maintain the south. I would appreciate more information on this. FYI read the Ohlone Way to get a read on how special the Delta is… Thank You for the efforts!

  • Deb
    May 24, 2018, 5:49 am

    Marin native & fret over environmental damage delta tunnels will have on beautiful Marin/surrounding areas. Have observed water utilities, via S. Ca.: Various agencies run by family/brothers, to Delta being purchased by another entity/country outside the U.S. Unconstitutional on a federal level & w/behind-the-scenes negotiations for perhaps years? Voters should have final say. We r living in a free democratic society, aren’t we?
    Remember Owens Valley,
    Deb M.

  • D.M.
    May 24, 2018, 6:54 am

    Taken classes, know enough law to get by. But wasn’t most or all of Delta purchased by another country/company (Australia?). We have farmers w/Sr. Water Rights. Our U.S. constitution has commerce clause and so wouldn’t water rights supersede, making a Delta purchase null & void?
    Just a thought,