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Some species in delta still at risk from water diversion tunnel project

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Despite a 34,000 page long environmental study, the California Department of Water Resources cannot say exactly what a massive water diversion and habitat restoration program will do to at least nine of fifty Northern California delta species.The irony is that the Sacramento/San Joaquin valley water restoration and conservation project was expected to help endangered species, according to a Dec. 18 Sacramento Bee article.

The giant water diversion project will cost $25 billion and will use three massive tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s first complete draft was released to the public this week. It will be available for a 120 day public review, notice and comment period.

The environmental impact report was supposed to clear up any issues with affected species, like salmon, cranes, fish and more. There are actually 57 endangered species that might be affected.

The problem is with several “not determined” findings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Marine Fisheries Service. These federal agencies are at odds with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife service, which finds a “less than significant” effect on the nine species.

The federal agencies say it is too early to make a final determination. The state appears to be in a rush for approval, but the only support for any conclusions comes from computer modeling.

In other words, until this unprecedented and massive habitat restoration and water diversion project is actually built and operating, no one knows for sure what will happen to individual species or their habitats.

A SUMMARY OF FACTS

The Delta provides water to three million acres of farmland and 25 million people
The water supplies a region that extends from San Jose to San Diego.

The Endangered Species Act mandates water diversion reduction whenever the water levels are too low and many endangered fish will be killed.

Since nature is not predictable, neither are the orders to reduce water diversion. Farms and cities that depend on Delta water have claimed economic hardship as a result of unreliable water supplies from the Sacramento River.

The idea is for the tunnels to divert more water, to stabilize the water supply, and to restore habitats. The habitats extend over a hundred thousand acres and for hundreds of miles.

HOW DO THE TUNNELS WORK?

There will be three massive intakes along the Sacramento River at a point that lies between Freeport and Courtland

The goal is to divert half of the Sacramento River water from the Delta and into tunnels.The tunnels will be 40 feet in diameter and 35 miles in length.

The tunnels will deliver the water to the point where state and federal canals begin. Those canals are 35 miles away at Tracy.

The tunnels will lie 150 feet below ground, but will transit through thousands of acres of Sandhill Crane habitat.

The intake screens for the tunnels will be a third of a mile long. They will all be packed into a four mile stretch of the Sacramento River.

New power lines will be built for the project. The project will take ten years to complete. It will cause extensive ground disruption, dangerous power lines. Weaker swimming fish will get sucked toward the intake screens and trapped there.

The tunnel intakes are directly in their water migration path of eight fish populations. Delta and longfin smelt are more likely to be sucked toward the intakes where they would also be vulnerable to stronger swimmers like striped bass. Salmon are sensitive to changes in water temperature.

The point is that California fish and wildlife agencies answer to Governor Brown, who wants the project pushed along. Federal fish and wildlife is not as ready to make strong definitive answers when models provide the only evidence for their conclusions.

As a result, it is difficult, if not impossible to predict how such an enormous water diversion scheme is exactly supposed to save endangered species habitats without killing the endangered species and destroying their habitats.

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