WaterFix: Down One Tunnel, in Holding Pattern. What’s Next??

In his State of the State address on February 12, 2019, newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom announced he didn’t support the “California WaterFix” as a two-tunnel project, and that he favored downsizing it to just one tunnel.  What does this news mean?



Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Photo: CA Dept. of Water Resources



The WaterFix project to tunnel water under the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta no longer exists as designed.  Many steps of this alleged solution for improving the environment and fisheries of the Delta and San Francisco Bay will need to be retraced.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) have never analyzed a single tunnel in an environmental document.  The 90,000 of pages in the “Final” WaterFix environmental impact report (EIR – California) and environmental impact statement (EIS – federal), already “supplemented” once in 2018, will at minimum require additional analysis.  To be done right, it is likely that environmental review will need to completely start over.


Former Governor Jerry Brown peruses the 90,000-page WaterFix environmental impact report (Office of the Governor/Twitter)



DWR and BOR’s joint Petition to the State Water Resources Control Board for the Change in the Point of Diversion (August, 2015) is for a twin-tunnel project.  With a single tunnel, it is not even clear if the Bureau of Reclamation will be a partner.  To be done right, the Petition, which already contained many procedural irregularities, will need to be withdrawn and resubmitted.

In over two years of hearings before the State Water Board, which generated 24,000 pages of hearing transcripts, there was no testimony about a single tunnel project.  At minimum, the Board will need to take additional testimony about a new project.  The hearing officers will need to decide what if any previous testimony about a twin-tunnel project will remain relevant in evaluating a single-tunnel project.  It is possible that the hearings, too, will need to start from scratch.

No details have been forthcoming on the description of a re-designed project or the next steps.  There are definitely more questions than answers.  The Governor needs to make decisions on the revised scope and extent of the project.   On March 1, DWR and BOR sent a letter to the State Water Board requesting that the Board temporarily place the WaterFix Petition in abeyance and issue a temporary sixty day stay on all proceedings for the WaterFix.  The letter states that a stay will “allow DWR sufficient time to assess the effects on WaterFix and the nature and extent the effects would have on existing and any new permit and planning work, and specifically how this may affect the WaterFix CPOD process.”

Meanwhile, several lawsuits relating to the earlier versions WaterFix are already underway.  These include litigation on the EIR/EIS for WaterFix.  They also include litigation of DWR’s “Validation” that the project is ready to issue bonds to fund it.  It is unclear whether DWR and BOR will withdraw their environmental documents or the validation, and if so what will become of the ongoing litigation.  Attorneys for CSPA and numerous other parties have invested substantial time, effort and resources in this litigation, prior to DWR’s upcoming do-over.

WaterFix in any form will be further delayed for years.  Perhaps it is time for the Governor to put a cork in the tunnels once and for all and find alternatives that truly reduce reliance on the Delta for California’s water supply.

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