Lawsuits challenge Delta ‘Twin Tunnels’

Several dozen local governments and conservation groups have filed at least 14 Superior Court lawsuits to challenge the state’s environmental review of its plan to build two tunnels to divert water from the Delta.

The project by the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown is commonly known as the Twin Tunnels and officially as California WaterFix.

It would consist of two 35-foot long tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter, to take water from the north Delta area southward to existing pumping stations near Byron in eastern Contra Costa County. From there the water would be sent to the Central Valley and Southern California.

The lawsuits claim an environmental impact report approved by the California Department of Water Resources on July 21 doesn’t adequately evaluate the effects on water quality, Delta farms, wildlife and fish including salmon.

“Like many other Bay Delta stakeholders, we have identified major flaws with the WaterFix proposal, significant impacts to water quality and the ecosystem, and continue to urge consideration of other more viable alternatives,” Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said in a statement.

Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomas said:

“The tunnels project threatens the Delta’s water quality and agricultural heritage, but the lead agencies have still not fully disclosed or mitigated the project’s significant, negative impacts on Solano County and the Delta region.”

Contra Costa and Solano counties were among a coalition of eight local governments that filed a Sacramento County Superior Court lawsuit on Monday.

Other participants were Yolo and San Joaquin counties, the Contra Costa County Water Agency, Central Delta Water Agency, South Delta Water Agency and Local Agencies of the North Delta.

Monday was the deadline for filing challenges to the environmental impact report.

Another lawsuit was filed in Sacramento Monday by 11 environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Restore the Delta and Sierra Club California.

That lawsuit claims the EIR is “replete with omitted facts and inaccurate evidence presented in a manner that is confusing and misleading to the public.” Most of the lawsuits filed during the past month were lodged in Sacramento County Superior Court, including one filed by the city of Antioch on Aug. 17 and one by the city of Brentwood on Aug. 18.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District, however, filed its lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court on Aug. 18.

It claims, “The project’s construction and operation threaten significant adverse impacts to the safety and security of the water supply for 1.4 million people served by EBMUD” and that the EIR “glossed over” those issues.

The lawsuits ask for a court order requiring the department to set aside its approval of the EIR, prepare a new EIR and halt work on the project until an adequate EIR is approved.

Environmental impact reports are required under the California Environmental Quality Act for the purpose of informing the public about the significant environmental impacts of a project and setting forth feasible mitigation measures.

Water Resources Department spokesman Sam Chiu said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

At the time the EIR was approved last month, department Acting Director Cindy Messer called the action “an important benchmark in moving California towards a more reliable water supply” for 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland.

The department said the project will enable it to balance the needs for water supply and environmental protection better by providing more flexibility in adjusting the amount of water diversion to the amount of water flow at a given time.

The department said construction could begin as early as 2018.

Osha Meserve, a lawyer in the case filed by local governments on Monday, said she expects the next step in the case to be proceedings to have all the cases coordinated in the same court, most likely Sacramento County Superior Court.

Those initial proceedings could take several months, she said.