Since Gov. Gavin Newsom scrapped former Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels plan earlier this year and reduced it to a single tunnel, the state is starting to work out the nuts and bolts of the new approach.
Executive Director of the Delta Conveyance Authority (DCA) Kathryn Mallon told Zone 7 Water Agency directors at their July 16 meeting what they should look for as the new plan develops.
In 2017, Zone 7 endorsed the twin tunnels, the first water contractor in the 29-member State Water Project (SWP) to do so. The two dissenters on the seven-member board thought the commitment was premature, especially for one of the state’s smallest contractors. Zone 7 buys 2 percent of the SWP water.
Zone 7 Karla Nemeth took an active role in planning for the twin tunnels during the Brown administration. She’s since left the agency and is now running the state department that is expected to build the project.
The five Zone 7 directors who supported the plan in 2017 said 80 percent of the agency’s water comes from the SWP. Long-range projections show it probably won’t dip below 50 percent, even if a broad portfolio of other water strategies were not developed.
So, the agency has a big stake in seeing that the Delta can be made more reliable as a conduit for water to Zone 7. The majority of its board members said there would be more flexibility to allow Zone 7 to bring in water from the Delta.
Now, court-mandated rules prevent flexibility in the timing of taking water to protect plant and animal species threatened by pumps pushing water out of the Delta.
Mallon stated that the DCA will work with all stakeholders, which include Delta residents, farmers and business people, who say the bypass will hurt the economy and divert too much fresh water away. They say the diversion worsens environmental degradation.
“We have no allegiance to any one thing,” Mallon said. “We will work with the stakeholders to embrace a wide range of goals.”
Mallon explained that there is a “healthy budget” for public engagement. There will be an effort to “take complex scientific and engineering concepts and present them in plain English.”
The DCA expects to have a draft environmental document next fall.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, whose district includes 200 miles of Delta territory, has proposed an alternative. Garamendi used to represent Livermore.
He calls his plan “Little Sip, Big Gulp.” The “Little Sip” refers to running part of the Delta conveyance along the Port of Sacramento Ship Canal west of the city. He said it would cost $7 billion, based on a 2010 federal estimate.
The pipeline would permit a flow of 3000 cubic feet per second, which converts to 14,205 acre feet a day. One acre foot of water is enough to supply two households for a year.
Garamendi said that the 3000 cubic feet per second would be enough water to satisfy demand south of the Delta, which includes the Valley.
Each of the twin tunnels would have carried 9000 cubic feet per second. That’s three times more than Garamendi’s pipeline.
Brown had estimated that the two tunnels would cost $15 billion. Each would have carried 42,615 acre feet. An advantage of the twin tunnels plan was the ability to take one out of service for regular maintenance and repairs or to fix serious damage.
Zone 7 Director Dennis Gambs told Mallon that water customers are interested in the cost of the project. Mallon said estimates were prepared for the twin tunnels. Now DCA will have to figure out the cost of converting the two into one, but so far, there is not a “firm corridor” in which to locate the tunnel.