Friday, December 6, 2013

Opponents blast Brown's tunnel plan on eve of EIR

Opponents of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to build tunnels to send water past the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta didn't wait for the project's key environmental documents to emerge before criticizing them.

Water experts, an environmental activist and an attorney for the Californians for a Fair Water Policy said today the tunnels will end up costing Central Valley farmers more than they benefit and that the project isn't environmentally sound.

"It's evident to most people that the tunnels don't make any economic, financial or environmental sense," said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. "At this point the beneficiaries of the tunnels will be the water agencies' officials who are looking at their legacy and construction companies."

In a conference call with reporters, Michael said Central Valley farmers will be tasked with paying 60 percent of the debt service for the tunnels, which could be $2 billion per year, as well as other costs. He said the costs far outweigh the roughly $134 million in increased agricultural revenue the state believes will result from the project.

"So agriculture's share of the total cost is more than 10 times … the value it will receive from them," Michael said. "It's insanity for farmers to engage in this."

Bob Wright, senior counsel of Friends of the River, called the project "a fraud on the public and against the law." He said the tunnels would violate the Endangered Species Act by taking needed water away from fish and that agencies failed to prepare proper biological assessments on the tunnels' effects on fish species.

The criticisms come as the state is expected Monday to unveil long-awaited environmental impact documents on the nearly $25 billion project, which is a key component of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. A 120-day public comment period on the documents is scheduled to begin Dec. 13.

Nancy Vogel, spokeswoman for the California Department of Water Resources, said water districts that rely on the Delta spent $200 million on planning for the conservation plan because they believed it is in the best interests of their agricultural customers.

"Otherwise they would face greater losses of water supply in the future," she said.

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