Delta ISB review of Delta tunnel project proceeding under huge time pressure

On June 8, 2022, DWR’s Director, Karla Nemeth, made a presentation on the Delta tunnel project to the Delta Independent Science Board (Delta ISB), with several of the scientists who had worked on the project. She said that she supported the Delta ISB’s review of the project.

But unlike the twin tunnels project, the Department of Water Resources did not release the Administrative Draft EIR for the single tunnel. DWR is instead planning for the Delta ISB to review the new project for the first time during the CEQA comment period on the Draft Delta Conveyance EIR, which could be as short as 90 days.

The Delta ISB discussed a draft timeline for the Delta tunnel review at their July 14 meeting. The timeline proposes to produce a draft of the main report within 60 days. We commented that 60 days is simply not enough time to review such a large and complex project.

The situation has unfortunate similarities to the review by NMFS and USFWS of the Biological Opinion for Long-Term Operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project under the Trump administration. KQED’s Lauren Sommer reported in 2019 that

… an investigation by KQED finds that analysis will be done under unprecedented time pressure, with less transparency, less outside scientific scrutiny, and without, say federal scientists, the resources to do it properly… “It’s a very aggressive schedule,” says a former federal biologist familiar with the matter…”

The Delta ISB’s original plan for review of the Delta tunnel project involved a  potentially longer consultation and review timeline. On April 17, 2020, the Delta ISB Chair, Elizabeth Canuel, sent comments to the Department of  Water Resources on the Delta tunnel project EIR Notice of Preparation, stating:

In summary, the Delta ISB is committed to providing a rigorous scientific review of the EIR documents for the Delta Conveyance Project and looks forward to working with DWR throughout this process.

(underlining added.)

On June 12, 2020, the Delta ISB’s Operating Guidelines were amended at the request of the Delta Stewardship Council’s attorney to state that the Delta ISB’s consultation on the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan / WaterFix project, mandated by the Delta Reform Act, was “finished.”

On June 30, 2020, the Delta Stewardship Council staff requested that the Department of General Services return the contracts for continuing Delta ISB members, which were to take effect on July 1, 2020. The review work of the Delta Independent Science Board was essentially defunded until October of 2021, when SB 821 was signed by the Governor and new contracts were issued.

In January, June, and July of 2022, the Department of Water Resources briefed the Delta ISB members on the single tunnel project, providing general information. But there has been no release of any detailed scientific or technical information suitable for actual peer review.

California Water Research has written Director Nemeth, explaining the issues with the shortened timeline and asking her to clarify the proposed peer review process for the Delta tunnel. The Delta Stewardship Council’s guidelines for best available science do mandate independent scientific peer review for the project, stating:

Independent scientific peer review shall be applied formally to proposed projects and initial draft plans, in writing after official draft plans or policies are released to the public, and to final released plans.

As we commented, the release of the Draft EIR is an appropriate time for peer review of the project to start, but the Delta ISB would need time to do an adequate, in-depth peer review. Such a review is essential, given the accelerating impacts of climate change that we have seen in recent years.

Further Reading

California Water Research. 2022. Letter to Director Nemeth, Re: Please clarify the peer review process for the design and proposed operations of the Delta Conveyance project. July 25, 2022.

Delta Independent Science Board. 2020. Letter to Director Nemeth, Re: Notice of Preparation for the Delta Conveyance Project. April 17, 2020.

Kukilich, T. Delta Independent Science Board funding slashed. Brentwood Press. June 17, 2021.

Sommer, L. 2019. Trump Administration Shortcuts Science To Give California Farmers More Water NPR.org. March 11, 2019.

Related blog posts

Governor Newsom signs SB 821, restoring compensation to Delta Independent Science Board. October 11, 2021.

Delta ISB: We can’t get a straight answer on the legal basis for stopping the contracts. June 2021.

On the Delta Independent Science Board and Inconvenient Truths. April 19, 2021.

Delta tunnel – commitment to updated science on sea level rise.  September 9, 2019.

DWR rescinds engineering performance standards for Delta tunnel. August 6, 2019.

 

 

 

One thought on “Delta ISB review of Delta tunnel project proceeding under huge time pressure

  1. As stated in this post, ” [The release of the Draft EIR (for the Delta Tunnel Project) is an appropriate time for peer review of the project to start, but the Delta ISB (Independent Science Board) would need time to do an adequate, in-depth peer review. Such a review is essential, given the accelerating impacts of climate change that we have seen in recent years.” The California Department of Water Resources is required to allow that time. If it does not, this matter will be a ripe target for litigation.

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