REGIONAL — A declaration suit filed in Superior Court in Sacramento by attorneys for some of the leading environmental groups in America accuses the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) of trying to prevent anyone in California from filing a court action challenging the bonds after the bond sales are underway.
Referring to the DWR’s court filing in August, the environmental groups’ Oct. 29 suit says it amounts to the DWR writing a “blank check” to finance the project.
The controversy is connected to the financing of a single tunnel that would be built under the Delta for 35 miles. The tunnel would make it easier for the state to bypass sensitive times for spawning Delta fish so water can be pumped to water agencies without harming the fish.
Originally, two tunnels had been proposed by Jerry Brown when he was governor, but Gov. Gavin Newsom cut the plan to one tunnel. He estimates it will cost $16 billion. Including interest, its backers say it will reach $25 billion. Opponents, such as Restore the Delta (RTD), say it would be closer to $40 billion.
Signers of the environmental declaration that said the DWR wrongly filed its declaration in August include representatives of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Planning and Conservation League (PCL).
Tim Stroshane, a policy analyst for RTD, said in a news release that DWR “put the cart before the horse.” It’s all right to file a declaration suit about bond sales, but in his opinion, the way DWR did it violates the law because it does not really have any project yet.
Stroshane stated, “There is no final Delta tunnel plan, no environmental impact report, no permit from the State Water Resources Control Board, and no federal permits. They don't even have a federal partner for the project.”
Stroshane continued, “They don't know which route the tunnel will be built through, and they do not have a finalized community mitigation plan. Worse, they don't know how much water will be available to move through the tunnel.”
The tunnel makes “less sense than ever,” said Stroshane.
He cited Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s criticism of the tunnel as being too costly and producing no new water.” Stroshane also said municipal water districts throughout the state are “financially strapped.”
Ryan Endean, assistant deputy director of the DWR, responded to an email query about the environmental groups’ accusations.
“The Department of Water Resources’ validation lawsuit and the bond resolutions adopted are for the purpose of confirming the Department’s legal authority to authorize and issue bonds,” said Endean. “Confirmation of the Department's authority to issue bonds does not commit the department to any particular course of action. The department retains its full discretion to approve or reject a project following CEQA review.”
There was also a clarifying statement from a publication of the State Water Contractors (SWC), the potential customers who will pay for a tunnel, if one were built. The Valley’s water wholesaler, Zone 7, is one of the 29 state water contractors. It sells to the Valley’s retailers: Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD), and the privately owned California Water Service, which provides most of Livermore with its water.
The SWC responded to a comment in the NRDC blog published Sept. 28 about the “premature filing” of the DWR declaration suit. SWC said that NDRC knew “full well the contract agreement that was negotiated will ensure only willing participants will pay for and receive the benefits to the project.”
Further, the SWC states, “They know public agencies will be deliberating publicly in the light of each of their own needs, and on behalf of their own ratepayers. To imply every Californian will fund the project, or that a blank check is being sought, is simply dishonest.”
The Valley water retailers and Zone 7 have been meeting over the past couple of years to learn more about future options for the water supply. A study has been underway addressing the cost and safety of treating wastewater with the reverse osmosis membrane, designed to filter out disease-connected impurities. This is one solution most members like, because it would keep Valley control of the water, instead of outside political forces, such as the DWR.
Also under consideration, but not discussed as much, is a plan for a network of pipes that would take brackish water from east of the Carquinez Strait, desalinize it, and bring it to the Tri-Valley and other locales that would share in the cost. The pipe network might be designed so that service interrupted by an earthquake, for example, could be provided from another location in the network.
The group is also looking at working out more water transfers from such places as Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County north of Livermore, and/or a new valley area northeast of Sacramento that would be called the Sites Reservoir.