Rep. McNerney blasts “WaterFix” tunnels plan, foes claim it will devastate the Delta region, a waste of money

Stockton, CA – On Tuesday, standing in the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09) held a press conference where he voiced his opposition to what he described as Governor Jerry Brown’s “WaterFix” tunnels plan, and explained why this ill-advised plan would devastate the Delta’s fragile ecosystem and hurt the families, farmers, and businesses in the region. He stressed his position while the public comment period for the plan‘s environmental review documents remains open through the end of October. The Congressman also highlighted why the plan is not the right solution for managing California’s water supply, and the need to pursue alternative, forward-thinking solutions.

Red flags have been raised across the board on the Governor’s tunnels plan that does nothing to fix the state’s existing water supply management and severe drought problems. From the underlying science and environmental impacts to the projected financial costs, this ‘fix’ is riddled with uncertainty every step of the way,” said McNerney. “The only thing clear is that the tunnels are a repackaging of old ideas that waste billions of dollars and threaten the way of life for an entire region without creating a single new drop of water.”

The Governor’s plan requires the construction of two enormous tunnels, 40 feet in diameter and 30 miles long, and would use three intakes to get water from the Sacramento River. The plan also calls for additional water pumps to be built at an expanded Clifton Court Forebay, an existing reservoir near Tracy. The new and existing pumps would maintain optimal water levels in the forebay and move water from the new tunnel outlets, through San Joaquin County, to existing canals that distribute water across the state.

Yet, these environmental review project documents show significant financial concerns and negative impacts for the Delta region. At a cost of approximately $16 billion, the tunnels would yield a minimal return on investment when it comes to new water supply. Every water user in the Delta could be injured from the changes in water quality, quantity, and levels as a result of the tunnels. The potential increase in salinity and the resulting contamination to crops grown in the Delta region is also a major concern. State contractors are also making plans to acquire as many as 300 farms in the Delta in order to construct the tunnels.

Construction from the tunnels would cause serious disruption and irreparable damage to farms, communities, and the environment. While we cannot afford to waste money on this wrong, outdated approach, we also cannot just say no,” added McNerney. “We should be using our resources to fund innovative, forward-thinking solutions that create new water and take pressure off the Delta by boosting regional self-sufficiency across the state.”

Speakers at the press conference included: Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta; Jeffery Michael, Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at University of the Pacific; and Tom Zuckerman, third generation Delta farmer, among other regional stakeholders.

Fourteen years of proposed tunnel construction will decimate the Delta’s $5.2 billion annual agricultural economy, and destroy family farms dating back to the 1850’s. 500,000 acres of Delta farms cannot survive dewatering & construction running 24-hours a day, seven days a week, for fourteen years,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “Farming families cannot survive being left for fourteen years with homes with no water service, no access to their property, and no farming income.”

According to the current documents, the Tunnels will deliver little to no new water, and that assumption is critical because it delivers little to no new water to those paying the $17 billion tab,” said Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific. “The Tunnels project described in the environmental impact report is not financially feasible. It makes no economic sense for the water agencies sponsoring the project, and certainly makes no economic sense for the state as a whole.”

The current drought reveals the stupidity of blowing $15 to $50 billion on tunnels which don’t increase the water supply instead of conservation, groundwater storage in wet years, and recycling projects leading to regional self-sufficiency at a far cheaper cost,” said Tom Zuckerman, a third generation Delta farmer.

Last month, McNerney, along with Northern California House Democrats, sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown expressing their concerns with the “WaterFix” tunnels plan. The letter argues that the multibillion-dollar tunnels fail to increase water supply, devastate an already fragile Delta ecosystem, and divert funding from more effective statewide water solutions for California. The letter also urges the Governor to focus on forward-thinking solutions like conservation, efficiency, recycling, stormwater capture, and groundwater recharge.

In July of this year, McNerney also voiced his concerns over the irreversible damage the “WaterFix” tunnels plan would cause to the Delta region.

He has pursued and expanding bold, innovative, technological solutions that create more water and address the energy-water nexus as a part of a comprehensive approach to address California’s severe drought crisis.

In August of this year, McNerney hosted a California Drought Solutions Forum that brought together farmers, water technology innovators, policy makers, state government, academia, and others to discuss how to advance the crucial water and energy efficient technological solutions that are needed to respond to the ongoing drought.

He has also introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a smart water management pilot program meant to spur innovative projects. And, the Congressman introduced legislation calling on Congress to authorize 27 regional water recycling projects that can create water for irrigation, agriculture, conservation, and increase the potable water supply.

Congressman Jerry McNerney represents California’s 9th Congressional District that includes portions of Antioch, East Contra Costa County, and San Joaquin and Sacramento Counties. For more information on Rep. McNerney’s work, follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @RepMcNerney.

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