Impacts of Delta Tunnels Proposal

Delta community submits testimony to State Water Board hearing


Trent Orr, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2000


Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta, (209) 479-2053

Today Earthjustice, representing Restore the Delta, submitted detailed testimony from the communities that will be most affected by Governor Brown’s proposed $17 billion Delta Tunnels (CA WaterFix).

The California State Water Resources Control Board is currently holding hearings on permits for new water intakes on the Sacramento River to feed the Tunnels, intended to send vast quantities of fresh water south. The first two rounds of the hearings address potential impacts to legal water users in the Delta. The new permit was requested by the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the lead agencies for the proposed Delta Tunnels.

Trent Orr, staff attorney with Earthjustice said, “Today’s testimony comes from farmworkers, Native Americans, subsistence and recreational fishers, and residents of economically distressed Delta cities and towns who fear the Tunnels’ devastating impacts on their livelihoods and ways of life. Because the agencies promoting the Tunnels failed to consider their impacts on environmental justice populations, this testimony will be crucial in determining if the project would inflict undue harm on the most vulnerable legal water users in the Delta, including entire communities already experiencing distress.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the 40,000-strong Restore the Delta, said that the organization’s testimony shows:

  • The proposed facilities are contrary to state water policy.
  • The proposed facilities represent a new water right, not a mere change to existing water rights permits of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project.
  • The project would alter flow and water quality with significant negative impacts on Delta agriculture and employment.
  • The petitioning agencies never estimated the size of the Delta’s environmental justice community (at least 100,000 residents), never surveyed their interests as legal users of water, nor proved that the Tunnels would not injure this community.
  • The plan didn’t seriously consider the project’s impacts on drinking water for the city of Stockton.

A study by Restore the Delta policy analyst Tim Stroshane points out that the petition being considered by the State Water Board is actually for three NEW points of diversion, not simply a “change” in diversion location claimed by the lead agencies.

Stroshane argues the Tunnels “ … would be a new method of diverting water under the Delta, rather than through it as presently permitted, and the [Tunnels] should be the subject of a new water right application.”

Impacted stakeholders from throughout the region highlighted the environmental justice concerns associated with this project. Here are some highlights:

Delta Farmworkers:

Angelica Perez, a student at Sacramento Community College, has worked in agriculture since age 15. Without suitable water supply for the farms where her family works, “ … we would be even more broke than we are now,” Perez explains. “We wouldn’t have any income.”

Julien Jimenez has worked in agriculture since he was a teenager. He dreams of running his own farm and is currently studying crop production at Cosumnes City College. “Everything my family does, everything I want to do is heavily reliant on water.”

Ixtzel Reynoso, a native of Clarksburg and a student at University of Pacific, conducted interviews with local farmworkers. She said of her own experience, “The environmental justice community will lose its livelihood if the flows of the Delta are compromised, their education will be detrimentally impacted, their hopes and dreams will be stalled, their wells will no longer pump drinkable water, and their jobs and homes will be lost.”

Subsistence Fishers:

Xuily Lo was born and raised in North Stockton. The Lo family were refugees from the “Secret War in Laos.” The family depended on the fish they caught in the Delta, as one of their primary sources of food. Xuily has fished the Delta for 23 years. Xuily has noticed in recent years that fish weight and sizes have declined. Anglers are noticing increase salt water intrusion further into the delta and more sightings of sea species like leopard sharks and jellyfish are now seen in what used to be freshwater habitat.

Delta Businesses:

Stocktonian Esperanza Vielma, a graduate of UC Berkeley, runs Café Coop, a non-profit cooperative incubator business for social entrepreneurs, freelancers, and artists in Stockton. Vielma testifies on numerous economic development projects underway in the Delta that bring healthy food to underserved environmental justice communities. These projects are all dependent upon “ … maintaining and improving water quality in the Delta estuary,” she says.

Vielma also addresses the region’s farmer’s markets and restaurants, like the Mile Wine Company in Stockton, which is making a name for itself with farm-to-table food and local wines from the Delta region. Delta-based wineries and breweries as well depend on clean Delta water for their financial success.

Delta farmers also grow the wide variety of vegetables used by the region’s ethnic communities from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China, India and Latin America.


Gary Mulcahy, government liaison with the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, a Native California Tribe, describes the long history of broken promises and outright violence directed at his tribe by the state and federal governments. “The original construction of the Shasta Dam flooded over 90 percent of the Winnemem Wintu village sites, sacred sites, burial sites, and cultural gathering sites along the Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers.”

Mulcahy describes the tribe’s cultural and spiritual connection to salmon and fears that the Delta Tunnels will continue the destruction of the Delta ecosystem. “You must consider how fragile the Delta ecosystem and estuary already is from years of water diversions and drought, and you must consider the state of our salmon fisheries, with some species, like the winter-run, on the very edge of extinction.”


Fisherman Roger Mammon has lived his entire 71 years in the San Francisco Bay-Delta region. He says, “As a sportsman I have watched the Delta die a slow death as its life-giving blood, water, is removed from the ecosystem in astonishing amounts, leaving the Delta ecosystem a terrible mess … I once watched salmon roll on the surface of the Sacramento River as they moved upstream to spawn. I used to witness salmon and steelhead smolt jump out of the water as they make their way downstream to the ocean. This cycle-of-life experience is now a rare occurrence in the West Delta where I live … I am directly affected as a legal user of water, as the sporting activities I enjoy are being decimated by the diversion of clean water for other purposes and will be further severely injured should the petition be granted and the Twin Tunnels constructed.”

Water Quality:

On the question of the Tunnels’ impacts on water quality, Restore the Delta’s policy analyst Tim Stroshane, testifies, “If the Petitioners’ modeling results submitted to date are deemed credible, then they would provide evidence supporting a conclusion that Petition Facilities would alter flows and water quality in the Delta sufficient to cause harm to legal users of water, as well as cause water quality objective violations and degradation.”

Delta Cities:

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said the Tunnel proponents have: “ … ignored or downplayed health risks to safe drinking water and subsistence fishing, including Stockton’s drinking water source, and the risk of increased carcinogens that can be generated from disinfection byproducts as well as harmful algal blooms. These communities depend on access to a safe, good quality drinking water supplies and on consumption of local fish. These are critical components of an accessible and healthy diet for these economically disadvantaged communities. As such, they should not be put at risk.”


In light of all the impacts the Tunnels would have on Delta residents, Restore the Delta suggests that the State Water Board:

  1. Deny the change petition because it violates a California law mandating a reduced reliance on Delta water exports.
  2. Should the Board consider the Petition, it should require a new petition appropriately designated as one seeking a new water right, not simply a change in a current water right.
  3. Develop appropriate flow criteria for the Bay-Delta Estuary that address the flow criteria requirements of the Delta Reform Act of 2009 and reduces reliance on the Delta water exports.

Additional Resources:

Earthjustice is representing Restore the Delta to oppose a massive diversion of fresh water from California’s Delta for Governor Jerry Brown's proposed “Twin Tunnels” project.
Earthjustice is representing Restore the Delta to oppose a massive diversion of fresh water from California’s Delta for Governor Jerry Brown's proposed “Twin Tunnels” project. (California Department of Water Resources)

Additional Resources

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