Lawsuits Fly Amid State, Federal Changes in California Water Delivery and Use
California Environmental groups on April 29 challenged in court the state Dept. of Water Resources decision not to include a proposed 40-mile tunnel in its most recent environmental assessment needed to reauthorize long-term operation of the State Water Project—a 700-mile system of dams and aqueducts that moves water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to areas in the south.
The lawsuit comes as state water users now have legally challenged changes in amounts of water that can be delivered by the state system and as the state battles Trump Administration changes in its management of water delivery from the federal Central Valley Project system to expand amounts for agriculture.
The state issued a draft environmental impact report, required periodically under state law for its 60-year-old water system, without mentioning the proposed tunnel—called the One-Tunnel Delta Conveyance Project—as part of the overall water program, even though it had $300 million in design and engineering underway, Bob Wright, attorney for the Sierra Club told ENR. The group is among the lawsuit plaintiffs.
“The whole reason to think about a tunnel is to export more water, so obviously the tunnel needed to be included in the [report] for the total project,” he said.
In responses to comments on the draft environmental report, the water resources department said the tunnel project was not evaluated because it "is not considered reasonably foreseeable at this time.” Wright said the agency has created an “alternative reality.”
The water resources agency issued a notice that it was preparing an environmental assessment of the tunnel nine days after the comment period for State Water Project environmental report closed. The notice, issued Jan. 15, said the tunnel was proposed to develop new diversion and conveyance facilities necessary to restore and protect the state water delivery system's reliability.
The water resources department had previously approved a conveyance project called California WaterFix that involved construction of two 35-mile, 40-ft wide tunnels, but Gov. Gavin Newsom said in his state of the state address last year that he would only support a single tunnel.
The single tunnel would be sized to convey up to 6,000 cu ft/sec of water from the Sacramento River to state water project facilities in the south, the document says.
Construction and commissioning of the overall conveyance project, which includes intakes, four tunnel reaches, pumping plants, shafts and more to be built 190 ft below ground, would take about 13 years to complete.
Engineering, field studies and design for the environmental planning process will be done by state agencies, with no project cost yet estimated.
The department did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit, filed in state Superior Court in San Francisco, was brought by the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Restore the Delta and the Planning and Conservation League.
The suit also challenges the state's conclusion that the massive water program has no environmental consequences.
“It’s bad enough that the state thinks the State Water Project has no environmental consequences, but it's completely absurd ... to separate [its] long-term operation from the tunnel project, which it is actively promoting as part of that long-term operation,” Kathryn Phillips, state Sierra Club director, said in a statement.