Delta tunnel contract negotiations: water grab?

DeltatunnelseaThe Department of Water Resources has been engaging in negotiations with the State Water Project Delta export contractors on an Agreement in Principle for a contract to pay for the “Delta Conveyance Project” (aka the Delta tunnel.)

This post discusses the November 14, 2019 drafts of the Agreement in Principle. There is a fifth draft offer by the Department of Water Resources and a sixth draft offer by the SWP contractors, who are calling themselves the “Public Water Agencies” or “PWAs.”

The draft Agreements in Principle show that, while the single Delta tunnel capacity is likely to be less than Governor Brown’s twin tunnels project, the SWP contractors are proposing that it be operated in ways that could significantly increase Delta exports. Key provisions are explained below.

Defines the proposed Delta tunnel project for CEQA

According to the drafts exchanged by DWR and the SWP contractors, the Agreement in Principle will be used to define the proposed project description for the purposes of CEQA.

The Agreement in Principle defines the “Delta Conveyance Facility” as a water diversion intake structure or structures on the Sacramento River, connected by a single tunnel to the facilities at Banks pumping plant.

DWR’s negotiator revealed on November 13 that for the purposes of the Agreement in Principle the assumed capacity of the State Water Project share of the Delta tunnel is 6,000 cfs.  That value is used in both November 14 draft offers.

Reliability “not a purpose”

The SWP contractors have rejected language stating that the Delta tunnel “will provide benefits to the SWP as a whole, including potentially enhanced water supply reliability.”  Current drafts state that “This is not a purpose of the AIP” (Agreement in Principle.)

Opt-in and increased diversions

The drafts state that the Delta tunnel project will be “opt-in,” that is, only SWP contractors that choose to participate will pay for it.  The opt-in framework is similar to that proposed for the CVP share of Governor Brown’s WaterFix project.

The drafts define “Delta Conveyance Facility water” as “water attributable to the Delta Conveyance Facility.”  They state that DWR operational scheduling and accounting processes will distinguish between water under current contracts (Table A water) and
“Delta Conveyance Facility Water,” i.e. “additional water diverted at and attributable to” the Delta tunnel.

The drafts also state that to the extent DWR moves water under the existing SWP contracts with the Delta tunnel, participants in the project “will be given a first priority of available capacity to move up to that same amount of non-project water at Clifton Court Forebay Intake.”

The drafts do not specify the “non-project water” that could be exported, but it could include water available under Reclamation’s Central Valley Project permits, water from Sites Reservoir, as well as water acquired by purchase or condemnation.

If the SWP share of the Delta tunnel is not full, the drafts allocate any remaining available capacity to the participating State Water Project contractors.  Only if none of the participating contractors use the remaining capacity, is it offered to the non-participating SWP contractors.


Given the provisions of the draft Agreement in Principle, it is difficult to see how the Newsom administration can continue to claim that the Delta tunnel project is about State Water Project water supply reliability, and will not be used to increase Delta exports.


2 thoughts on “Delta tunnel contract negotiations: water grab?

  1. This is another piece of solid research and analysis by California Water Research. I hope that California Governor Gavin Newsom, the leading proponent of building a gigantic tunnel under the California Delta, hears about or better yet reads this blog. The governor desperately needs to wake up to reality before it’s too late for Sacramento River winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon and other endangered aquatic species are extirpated in the Delta and the state’s commercial fishing industry along with them!

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