Environmental review docs released for controversial $15 billion Delta tunnel plan

Proposal still needs to be approved by state, federal regulators

Thousands of pages of environmental review documents were released last week on the controversial plan to build massive tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to transport water to Central and Southern California.

The final environmental impact report (EIR) and environmental impact statement for the proposed WaterFix project were both posted online Dec. 22 following 300 days of public review, 600 public meetings throughout the state and 30,000 public comments on the draft versions.

The $15 billion plan would involve digging the two 35-mile long tunnels to transport water from the northern portion of the Delta and deliver it elsewhere in California.

Once complete, it would provide water to 25 million people and thousands of businesses from the Bay Area to San Diego and supply water to 3 million acres of farmland. Proponents say it would protect water supplies from sea level rise, earthquakes, floods and levee failure.

Advocates say that it is the most environmentally sound way to ensure that Californians have consistent access to water, but the plan's many opponents say that it is at best unclear what environmental impact such a massive project would have.

The opponents argue that the volume coming from the twin tunnels could significantly drain the Sacramento River, exacerbating existing problems of saltwater intrusion into the Delta and imperiling fish populations.

The completion of the environmental review documents does not mean the project has been approved. Further biological opinions are expected to be completed early in 2017 and the plan still needs to be approved by state and federal environmental regulators.

Advocates hope for construction on the project to begin in 2018.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been a vocal advocate of the proposal, said in a statement today that the environmental review has been extensive and the project is essential for the state.

"This project has been subjected to 10 years of detailed analysis and more environmental review than any other project in the history of the world," Brown said. "It is absolutely essential if California is to maintain a reliable water supply."

But opponents with the advocacy group Restore the Delta said today that regulators still need to take a careful look at the extensive documents released last week.

"How thoughtful of Delta Tunnel lead agencies to dump this document on defenders of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary just before the holidays," Restore the Delta executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said.

"We will begin digging through the information, evaluating agency replies to public comments included in this document, engage in the process moving forward, and prepare for litigation if required," she said.

Scott Morris, Bay City News

— Bay City News Service


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