WaterFix: DWR claims “no sensitive receptors” to hazardous materials in North Delta towns

The Delta Stewardship Council is considering nine appeals of the certification by the Department of Water Resources that the WaterFix project is consistent with the Delta Plan.  In addition to appeals filed by the Delta Counties, one of the appeals was by North Delta Cares, a small community organization that represents residents and businesses in the Northern part of the Delta, including the small North Delta legacy towns.

North Delta Cares’s appeal cited concerns about release of hazardous materials from construction of the Delta tunnels:

It is North Delta Cares’ concern that although CEQA concludes that there are no sensitive receptors exposed to hazardous materials, substances, or waste as a result of construction of the water conveyance facilities under the proposed project and therefore, there would be no impact, the Legacy Town of Hood and its inhabitants […] is ¼ mile from the construction of Intake 3 and ½ mile from construction of Intake 5. These intakes sandwich this Legacy Town and the construction impacts create a hazardous situation for the people and animals living there.

Hood intake

North Delta Cares cited the WaterFix Final EIR/EIS, which stated:

Potential hazards include the routine use of hazardous materials (as defined by Title 22 CCR Division 4.5); natural gas accumulation in water conveyance tunnels; the inadvertent release of existing contaminants in soil, sediment, and groundwater, or release of hazardous materials from existing infrastructure; disturbance of electrical transmission lines; and hazardous constituents present in RTM. These impacts are considered significant because the potential exists for substantial hazard to the public or environment to occur related to conveyance facility construction. (FEIR/S, Pg. 24-5, L 28-39)

In response, the Department of Water Resources claimed that there were no sensitive receptors to hazardous materials in the town of Hood, because there were no schools, hospitals or parks in the town.

For the purposes of the Final EIR/EIS analysis, schools, hospitals, and parks are considered sensitive receptors… There are no schools, parks or hospitals located within 0.25 mile of the water conveyance facilities alignment. Therefore, no sensitive receptors would be exposed to hazardous materials, substances, or waste as a result of construction of the water conveyance facilities under Alternative 4A. (Id., p. 24-245)

Hood, CA           Source:  Visitcadelta.com

In closing arguments in the Delta Stewardship Council hearing, Barbara Daly stated for North Delta Cares:

This is an example of DWR’s attempts to define away the impacts on North Delta communities in the WaterFix Final EIR/EIS.   But in the Delta Plan Amendments PEIR, Impact 5.4-4, the Delta Stewardship Council defined sensitive receptors to include rural residences.   This kind of parsing of impacts on public health is unacceptable.

Gas Wells

There are serious potential hazards in the vicinity of North Delta towns. One is abandoned gas wells. As documented in California Water Research’s blog post, WaterFix tunnel construction: gas wells, in 2010, outside reviewers of the Delta tunnel design had recommended  that DWR locate all abandoned gas wells in the tunnel alignment and avoid tunneling over them.   As of last Spring, DWR and MWD had not done so.  North Delta Cares sent a letter to Metropolitan Water District’s Board on July 9, 2018, which mentioned the gas well hazards and MWD’s disastrous tunnel construction history:

Unfortunately, gas well and tunneling accidents are not new to projects under construction by MWD. The largest tunneling accident in California history occurred in 1971 during MWD’s boring of the 5.5 mile-long, 170 feet deep, underground Sylmar Tunnel to Castaic Reservoir with a tunneling machine killing 17 people in a gassy tunnel explosion. The Sylmar Tunnel was known to go through an area of oil and gas wells. This was the longest trial in U.S. history and ultimately resulted in litigation amounting to $9.3 million in civil judgments.

The only mitigation that DWR and MWD are proposing in the Conceptual Engineering Report is to determine in the future how close they can safely pass to gas wells during tunneling. This is unacceptable and extremely irresponsible in the light of the serious potential for an accident involving gas in tunneling operations.

DWR sought to exclude both North Delta Care’s letter and a newspaper article on the Sylmar Tunnel Disaster from the Delta Stewardship Council’s consideration of North Delta Care’s appeal, although the article on the Sylmar Tunnel Disaster had been submitted as evidence in the State Water Board’s hearing on the WaterFix Change Petition.

Hexavalent Chromium

Chromium 6

Another serious potential hazard at the North Delta intake sites is heavy metals in the sediments. Potentially hazardous levels of chromium were found in environmental screening tests of geotechnical borings in 2010 and 2011. Hexavalent chromium is known to be a potent carcinogen, As testified by California Water Research in the Delta Stewardship Council’s hearing on October 25, the results of DWR’s environmental screening tests were in a 2011 internal geotechnical data report, which was referenced in the WaterFix Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) / Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) but never publicly distributed.

Site Boring number Depth (feet) Chromium (mg/kg)
Intake 1 DCR1-DH-010-43 43 56.20
  DCRA-DH-001-01-158 158 57.00
Intake 2 DCRA-DH-002-01-155 155 91.20
Intake 3 DCR3-DH-005-01 1 56.60
  DCR3-DH-005-01 1 56.60
Intake 4 DCR4-DH-008-01 (no depth) 51.10

Chapter 24 of the EIR/EIS on Hazards and Hazardous Materials implied that DWR had no evidence of any hazardous materials in the WaterFix footprint. DWR sought to exclude the table above, summarizing the information in the internal geotechnical report, from the Delta Stewardship Council’s consideration of North Delta Cares’ appeal.

This post was updated on November 2, 2018 with a better closeup of the plan for the intake next to Hood, CA, and a better picture of the town.

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