Parfrey: Peripheral tunnels not dead

Local Sierra Club leader Eric Parfrey writes:

“I have been meaning to drop you a quick line in response to your blog “Peripheral tunnels: dead in the water.” (see item, below).  You quote from the SacBee’s Dan Walters column which notes that the 2010 state water bond, “the law that created the peripheral tunnel,” (your quote) is dead.  Dan writes “[the bond] was taken off the 2012 ballot and although it’s still officially scheduled for 2014, it will be extensively rewritten and reduced – meaning water policy is back to square one.”

“I don’t believe this is quite correct, and Dan should have been more precise in his column.  The main water policy for the Delta is driven by the Bay Delta Conservation Plan , which is still very much alive and is on schedule to be released along with the EIR/EIS this Spring.

“My understanding is that the 2010 water bond was never written or intended to provide GO (general obligation bonds) funds to actually build the tunnels.  The bond was to provide the main funding for the mitigation (Delta restoration) programs that need to accompany the construction in order to get a “take” permit from State and federal governments.  Three-quarters (or more) of the funding for the actual construction is to come from the water contractors (Met, Westlands, Kern, etc.).

“The BDCP process is not totally dependent on a water bond being passed, and it is not accurate to suggest that if the water bond is never passed that a tunnel or similar project could not be initiated.

“I asked  the question of our Sierra Club lobbyist last year:  is it possible to begin construction of the tunnels without the mitigation funds in hand thru a passed water bond.  He told me that the water contractors believe they are on firm legal ground to begin construction without the mitigation, with the reasoning that the mitigation is a public good and is the primary responsibility of the public taxpayer.  If the taxpayers decide to delay or, ultimately, not to fund, restoration, the contractors will still push the Brown administration to proceed.

 ”As a Calif planner, I can’t understand  how a project can begin before the mitigation that everyone agrees is required has been guaranteed funding. Under CEQA, if you can’t guarantee funding to implement mitigation you can’t claim legally that the impacts have been reduced to acceptable levels, and you are then vulnerable to successful litigation under CEQA. However, this same flawed reasoning permeates the whole BDCP process, which claims the State can build the project and then figure out how to operate it to minimize environmental impacts.”

Point taken, of course. Walters was saying the original water bond is dead, so Peripheral tunnels have become more problematic. But there’s still a strong drive by the water contractors to build it and a huge, complex bureaucracy grinding forward. As for building a Delta-sucking canal without even implementing the mitigations, four words: Over our dead body.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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