Another View: Tunnels aren’t the best fix for the Delta

In this aerial view of the Delta, the San Joaquin River is in the middle with the Sacramento River in the background.
In this aerial view of the Delta, the San Joaquin River is in the middle with the Sacramento River in the background. Sacramento Bee file

California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird is correct that California needs a Delta water fix that allows us to capture high flows in the rainiest of years (“To make the most of rain, state needs Delta tunnels,” Viewpoints, Feb. 5).

However, he is incorrect in stating that the governor’s twin-tunnel proposal is the only way to accomplish this.

Our state’s water supply challenge demands thoughtful consideration of all pieces of the puzzle, one of which is to maximize the storage of extra water in wet years. Only a portion comes from the Delta.

The Delta – the heart of California – deserves serious consideration of more than just the one option to tunnel through it. Numerous well-qualified and concerned professionals have recommended alternatives to the tunnels proposal.

For example, Craig Wilson, who served as the state’s first Delta watermaster, proposes a western Delta diversion system. Instead of tunnels diverting large amounts of water before it flows through the Delta, water would go naturally through the Delta and then get picked up near Sherman Island-Antioch and routed to the south Delta export pumps – half the distance called for by the tunnel proposal and at a much reduced cost. A western Delta diversion also could be screened to avoid damage to threatened native fish species.

This and other alternatives could protect Delta water quality by ensuring that diversions only occur when water quality is sufficiently high. On the other hand, massive tunnel construction and the resulting diminished water quality would damage the Delta’s agricultural, economic, cultural and recreational resources.

The Brown administration is seeking required permits from the State Water Resources Control Board even though the board has not yet determined how much water a healthy Delta ecosystem requires, as required by law.

It is disappointing that less costly and less damaging alternatives to the twin tunnels have not been equally and seriously considered.

Mary N. Piepho, a member of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, is chairwoman of the Delta Protection Commission. She can be contacted at