REGIONAL — In a 5-2 vote, the Zone 7 Water Agency Board approved the expenditure of $2.8 million as the agency’s share for the next phase of planning on the Delta Conveyance.

The conveyance, a Gov. Gavin Newsom proposal, would reduce his predecessor Gov. Jerry Brown’s Twin Tunnels project to one tunnel under the Delta. On Brown’s Twin Tunnels project, Zone 7 paid $280,000 as a placeholder to be sure the agency reserved a spot if the agency wanted to take part. It was a very preliminary head count to see which State Water Contractors might be interested in Brown’s plan.

Many environmental groups have opposed both the Twin Tunnels and the single tunnel.

When Newsom announced the single tunnel, Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California, said that since Newsom publicly supported a single tunnel, her group knew the “expensive and outdated idea wasn’t off the table.”

“However, we anticipated that there might be an effort to employ a list of efficiency, conservation and other measures to reduce dependence on a tunnel before moving forward on such a massive and environmentally harmful project,” Phillips said. “In other words, we thought the horse would come before the cart. So, now we’ll have to focus a lot of time and energy on battling the tunnel again. And we now know with certainty that Governor Newsom’s policy on water is not a whole lot different from Gov. Brown’s."

Conservationists, tribal leaders, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, environmental justice advocates, boaters, Delta business owners and elected leaders oppose the single tunnel, just as they did Brown’s Twin Tunnels, because scientists report the project would drive already imperiled Delta smelt, long fin smelt, winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon and other species to extinction.

The project would divert massive quantities of water from the Sacramento River, rather than let the water flow naturally into the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, depriving the estuary of the water that it needs to function as an ecosystem, according to project opponents.

Zone 7 supporters state that some advantages of a single tunnel include keeping intrusive farm chemicals from entering the Delta water, a more reliable pumping schedule when endangered plants and fish species are at risk, and adjustments for climate changes to snowpack water storage.

Board President Olivia Sanwong and Vice President Angela Ramirez-Holmes voted against the proposal. Both raised issues about transparency.

Ramirez-Holmes stated that two previous meetings in pre-COVID-19 times generated a large turnout in the Zone 7 meeting room. Although that’s not possible now because of the coronavirus, Ramirez-Holmes noted that she’d expected more emails on the topic and stressed the importance of publicizing agenda items. She did say that a legal notice was disseminated regarding the issue.

Ramirez-Holmes further stated there could be a possibility that Tri-Valley residents who opposed the Twin Tunnels might support the single tunnel.

“There is no way of knowing that unless Zone 7 invites more comment on the update,” she said.

Sanwong announced that the board has a special meeting set for Dec. 2 for a study session about flood control; it could, however, set aside time to hear public input on the Delta conveyance.

Directors Dennis Gambs and Laurene Green said that they, like Ramirez Holmes and Sanwong, thought that a better registration of public opinion should be compiled. But they voted with other directors, who said that Zone 7 already has the money set aside in two regular funding categories devoted to the agency’s reliability of water supply. Participating over the next two years will also bring more knowledge about whether it will be worthwhile to continue beyond 2022 and spend more money, up to about a grand total of $7.5 million over the four years.

The item was on the Nov. 18 agenda, because Metropolitan Water District of Southern California wanted to learn by Dec. 8 how much support there is around the state before committing to the single tunnel plan.

Zone 7 was the last State Water Contractor to respond before Dec. 8 — a distinct contrast to several years ago, when Zone 7 was the first endorsee of the Twin Tunnels. The board membership then was accustomed to depending on the Delta to carry the water to a great extent, as it always had. Since then, a newer board has listened to water retailers’ interest in seeing how many alternatives to the tunnel can help develop more water capacity closer to home. Examples include potable reuse, desalination of brackish water and the use of Arroyo water when gravel quarries turn their lakes over to Zone 7.

It has been slow going. Currently, Zone 7 and retailers’ staffs are continuing the work at their level.

Without the Delta Conveyance, the estimated future reliability would be about 36% to 55%. This would translate to a range of 29,000 acre feet (AF) to 44,000 AF. A study in 2019 showed that by buildout in 2040, the Valley would need approximately 55,500 AF.

Zone 7 also has been looking into other project proposals, such as the potential Sites Reservoir in an area northwest of the Delta, which would bring in new rainfall. The agency is also working out a deal for storage space in Contra Costa Water District’s Los Vaqueros Reservoir north of Livermore.

Zone 7 will share a seat with Fremont’s Alameda County Water District on the board of directors for the Delta Conveyance Authority. Each will take a turn every other year.

Water 101 for New Mayors, Councilmembers

With newly elected mayors and councilmembers in the Valley, Director Michelle Smith McDonald suggested that Zone 7 prepare a “Water 101” event. Sanwong supported the idea, and Pryor committed to making arrangements.

Sanwong also said that some people in downtown Pleasanton near her home are dropping their COVID-19 masks on the ground and not picking them up. The masks can wash down curbside water grates to the Bay and cause problems there for wildlife. She urged vigilance.