Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

An intake for Gov. Brown's proposed tunnels would be in the Courtland area. The Delta Protection Commission voted Thursday to oppose the project.

Delta commission votes to oppose water tunnel plan

Published: Saturday, May. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 28, 2013 - 10:06 am

The Delta Protection Commission voted Thursday to oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal for two giant water diversion tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, saying the project would not help agriculture, recreation and water quality.

"What has been released is not something they feel is supportive of the Delta," said Michael Machado, the commission's executive director.

The project, known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, calls for three intakes on the Sacramento River near Courtland. They would serve two giant tunnels that would divert a portion of the river's flow to existing state and federal canal systems near Tracy.

The project also includes 100,000 acres of habitat restoration, which will require buying out Delta farmland.

The commission has no legal power to approve or reject the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. The commission was created by state law in 1992 and is mostly composed of local government officials from throughout the five-county Delta region. Among its responsibilities is ensuring the continued health of Delta agriculture, recreation and culture.

So the vote was not entirely unexpected, given that local government officials have expressed opposition to the tunnel project for months.

The $14 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan will not be released as a formal proposal until the end of this year. But the Department of Water Resources, which is leading the project, has released thousands of pages of draft documents over the past three months.

That was enough to spur the commission to formally voice its opposition at a meeting Thursday in Courtland.

Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, who chairs the commission, said he is concerned that state officials are not adequately considering alternatives to the twin tunnels that have come from environmental groups and independent engineers. They include proposals for a single intake and tunnel, alternative intake locations and extensive water conservation.

"It doesn't seem there's going to be a thorough analysis of any of those alternatives," Nottoli said. "They're kind of driving toward a particular preferred project."

The commission's vote was 9-2. The dissenting votes came from two officials appointed by Brown who represent the Natural Resources Agency and the Department of Food and Agriculture. Commissioners directed staff to prepare a letter to state officials expressing their concerns.

Contact The Bee's Matt Weiser at (916) 321-1264. Follow him on Twitter @matt_weiser.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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