California Forum

Single tunnel proposal for Delta may herald a new approach

A compromise proposal suggests that one tunnel instead of two be constructed on the Sacramento River to deliver water to the pumps near Tracy.
A compromise proposal suggests that one tunnel instead of two be constructed on the Sacramento River to deliver water to the pumps near Tracy. Sacramento Bee file

The Public Policy Institute of California recently called for the replacement of the Delta twin tunnels proposal with a single tunnel (“A grand compromise for the Delta outlined”; Forum, Dec. 4). This proposal may provide an opening for new ideas in the Delta.

The twin tunnels are big enough to drain the entire Sacramento River dry at most times of the year. A project this size isn't credible. It’s too big, too expensive and too damaging, which is why it is hopelessly bogged down.

Twin tunnel proponents say don’t worry, we promise to operate the massive water intakes responsibly so they don’t further harm salmon, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay. Salmon fishermen simply don’t believe it, having heard this for years regarding the existing water system while seeing our salmon runs decimated by broken promises.

Twin tunnel backers have fought in court – and are fighting in Congress this week – to weaken protections for salmon. “Just trust us” doesn’t work.

On the other hand, there’s no doubt the current system of moving water across the Delta is harmful to salmon and every other native Delta species. As long as Sacramento River water is going to be sent south through the existing Delta pumps, then some sort of conveyance project that allows baby salmon to safely pass could be an improvement – but only with rock-solid conditions.

A single tunnel designed with salmon protections as a priority instead of an afterthought might be one option.

The State Water Resources Control Board is currently determining how much water needs to be left in the rivers and Delta to reverse the damage to our salmon and other native fish. The Golden Gate Salmon Association believes we need to know these results before billions are invested in a massive Delta plumbing project.

We’re hoping the time has come for alternatives to be evaluated seriously. It’s time for creative thinking about a solution that would work for all Californians.

John McManus is the executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a coalition representing sport and commercial salmon fishermen and related businesses. Contact him at john@goldengatesalmon.org.

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