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FOR Logo Friends of the River
 The voice of California's rivers

Comment on the twin Delta tunnels

delta 3-2013.The long awaited draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) are now available for review by the public. The government is soliciting public input on the controversial plan and its proposal to build massive “twin tunnels” intended to divert fresh water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta Estuary. Now is your opportunity to speak out against this environmental travesty at upcoming public meetings and by sending an email opposing this expensive and destructive water project.

To send your email opposing this disastrous project SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE.

For BDCP public meeting times and locations click here.

Background (read FOR's initial BDCP comment letter - pdf)

The BDCP is proposed as a 50-year habitat conservation plan with the stated goals of restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta ecosystem and securing California water supplies.  Proposed by federal and state agencies, as well as the water contractors they serve, the BDCP proposes to build two massive tunnels beneath the Delta that would divert water from the Sacramento River, before it reaches the Delta, for export to southern Central Valley agribusiness and southern California’s sprawling cities. The BDCP also proposes to restore or protect approximately 145,000 acres of Delta habitat.

delta by don mace istockphotoMany believe that the BDCP is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Delta’s environmental decline occurred as federal and state pumps in the south Delta diverted up to 60% of the estuary’s fresh water inflow. BDCP critics question the logic of trying to restore an ecosystem degraded by fresh water diversions by building new infrastructure capable of diverting even more fresh water. And despite millions of dollars of public funds proposed to “restore” Delta habitat, restoration will not be successful unless and until we restore fresh water flows into the Delta, particularly from the San Joaquin River system, to meet the needs of Delta fish and wildlife and the habitat that sustains them.

The government’s official estimate for the BDCP price tag is nearly $25 billion. Critics point out that this estimate does not include interest and other hidden costs, which could balloon the overall price tag to more than $54 billion. The construction of the tunnels and diversions would cost more than $14.5 billion, with another $4.8 billion in operation, maintenance, and administration expenses over the 50-year life of the plan. Federal and state water contractors are responsible for these costs. If the contractors incur this debt, you can be sure that they will push for diverting as much water as possible from the Delta to recover their costs. The federal and state taxpayers will be responsible for much of the BDCP’s habitat restoration costs. Most of the state’s share of Delta restoration costs is built into the $11 billion water bond on the November 2014 ballot.

6-20-13 viceCritics fear that the BDCP’s proposed twin tunnels will only continue if not actually increase the dewatering of the Delta – the West Coast’s largest fresh water estuary – and contribute to the further decline of native Delta fish species towards extinction, increased water pollution in the Delta, and the loss of tens-of-thousands of acres of rich Delta farmland and wildlife habitat. Even worse, details hidden in the 40,000 page EIR/EIS hint that continued and expanded Delta exports through the twin tunnels, coupled with the impacts of climate change, will drain the major reservoirs in northern California and result in dramatic and severe changes in river flows downstream.

According to the BDCP EIR/EIS, the operation of the twin tunnels, coupled with the impacts of climate change, will drain Trinity Reservoir by up to 19%, Shasta Reservoir by up to 20%, Folsom Reservoir by up to 31%, and Oroville Reservoir by up to 32%. The result may be even lower flows (particularly in the fall) in the Trinity, Sacramento, American, and Feather Rivers than we are witnessing now during one of California’s driest years on record. The Sacramento River’s flow downstream of the project’s three new water intakes (located just south of Sacramento) will be reduced all year long.

The 45 mile-long twin Delta tunnels and their fresh water intakes, forebays, tunnel debris disposal sites, and additional facilities will eat up at least 5,700 acres of Delta farmland and wildlife habitat. Some of the facilities and debris disposal sites will be located on Brannan Island State Park and on conservation land purchased with public funds to provide habitat for the threatened sandhill crane. The diversion intakes, access roads, lights and other urban intrusions associated with these facilities, will be directly adjacent to the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Delta Meadows State Park.

The BDCP will create new political impetus behind raising existing dams and building new ones on northern California rivers to store and feed more fresh water into the tunnels. The plan to raise Shasta Dam and enlarge its reservoir is directly tied to the BDCP’s Delta tunnels. The federal government’s own environmental report for the Shasta Dam raise admits that all of the water produced by the enlarged reservoir will be sold to water contractors, 75% of them located south of the Delta. Raising Shasta Dam will flood segments of the McCloud and Sacramento Rivers eligible for federal Wild & Scenic River protection, violate state law intended to protect the free flowing McCloud, and perpetuate cultural genocide by flooding the remaining homeland of the Winnemen Wintu Tribe.

Another project likely to be boosted by the Delta tunnels is the Sites Offstream Storage Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley. The reservoir would be filled by diversions of fresh water from the Sacramento River (Sites diversions could take as much as 67% of the river’s average flow during April according to one computer model). The diversions would significantly reduce flows in the Sacramento River needed to maintain its healthy riparian and aquatic habitats, which are home to numerous threatened and endangered wildlife and fish species, including salmon and steelhead. State officials admit that the Sites Project is only cost effective if all of its water is sold to water contractors, even though the same officials promise vague environmental benefits that will supposedly be provided by the reservoir.

The BDCP tunnels may even reinvigorate the controversial Auburn Dam on the American River (a project that has risen from the political ashes so many times that it has been called a “Zombie” dam). But the ultimate target to feed the Delta tunnels would be revival of the Dos Rios Dam project on the Eel River, with tunnels beneath the Coast Range to send more fresh water to the Delta for export. Even Ronald Reagan couldn’t stomach that, so he spiked the Dos Rios project when he was Governor of California in 1969.

The big problem with the BDCP’s proposed twin tunnels is the difference between the government’s stated intent on how the project will be operated and its actual physical capacity to do harm. Astoundingly, government scientists still don’t know how much fresh water the Delta needs to survive and thrive as a functioning ecosystem. Governor Brown’s solution is to build the tunnels and diversions, and figure out later how much water the Delta needs. The long history of broken promises, failed reforms, and violated laws in regard to water operations in California simply underscores the uncertainty of the BDCP. When it comes to this project, it’s caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

Delta smeltCalifornia doesn’t need to build these massive twin tunnels and diversions to meet its water supply needs. A truly sustainable water plan for the state would focus on increased water conservation and efficiency, treating and recycling waste water, cleaning up polluted groundwater, capturing and treating storm water, and reducing irrigation of drainage-impaired lands in the southern Central Valley. The environmental, social, and monetary cost of these sustainable solutions is much less than what is proposed by the BDCP.

SalmonCalifornia’s beleaguered Delta needs your help. Please attend a BDCP public meeting and speak out for the true protection and restoration of the Delta. For BDCP public meeting times and locations click here, and to send your email opposing this disastrous project take action below.


  • Your Senators
  • Your Representative
  • Your Governor
  • Your State Senator or Senators
  • Your State Representative or Representatives
  • Mr. Ryan Wulff, NMFS


*Required fields


I oppose all alternatives in the BDCP that propose construction of new diversions and tunnels under the Delta

Dear [Decision Maker],

Thank you for receiving public comments in response to the Recirculated Draft BDCP Plan and Draft EIR/EIS.

I oppose all alternatives in the BDCP that propose construction of new diversions and tunnels under the Delta. I oppose the project because:

It is too costly (up to $54 billion with interest and other hidden costs) and the general public should not have to cover any of this outrageous, including habitat restoration costs. These should be paid by those who receive the water (since the Delta diversions degraded the habitat in the first place).

Operation of the diversions and tunnels threaten to dewater major upstream reservoirs in northern California and reduce downstream river flows, to the detriment of fish, wildlife, recreation, and other public trust values.

Diversion and tunnel facilities would adversely impact too much Delta farmland and habitat, harm Brannan Island State Park, infringe on the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, and degrade other essential conservation lands.

You cannot restore Delta habitat without first determining how much fresh water the Delta needs to survive and thrive. Restoration of fresh water flows from the San Joaquin River in the south Delta are particularly important.

The tunnels will need more upstream storage facilities to feed fresh water into them. These include raising Shasta Dam, building the Sites Reservoir, and possibly reviving the Auburn Dam on the American River and the Dos Rios Dam on the Eel. The environmental, cultural, and financial impacts of these controversial projects are a significant foreseeable but ignored impact of the BDCP.

I believe that the BDCP should include, and I would support, an alternative that significantly reduces Delta exports and focuses instead on restoring habitat and threatened and endangered species in the Delta, improves Delta water quality by providing sufficient fresh water inflow from both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, and that includes a pragmatic plan to sustainably meeting California's water needs. This can be done by increasing agricultural and urban water use efficiency, capturing and treating storm water, recycling urban waste water, cleaning up polluted groundwater, and reducing irrigation of desert lands in the southern Central Valley with severe drainage problems. We don't need to build more dams or tunnels.

Thank you for considering my comments.

[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State ZIP]

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