The COVID-19 pandemic could have significant impacts on population growth in California, due to reduced immigration, as well as reduced birth rates due to the massive economic impacts.  This should be taken into account in planning for future infrastructure needs, including water supply infrastructure.

The demographic projections by the Department of Finance in the Governor’s 2020-21 Budget showed a significant reduction in forecasted population growth, stating:

Recently updated population projections reflect decreased expectations for future population growth. The net annual population increase is expected to fall to less than 100,000 by 2045, and close to zero net growth by 2060. Fewer births lead to fewer adults, which compounds the slowing growth over time. The current projections series reach a total population of 45 million by 2060, rather than 50 million in the previous iteration.   (2020-21 Full Budget Summary, p. 206.)

Annual population 20-21 budget proj

Projected Annual Population Growth, 2020-21 Budget

If net migration continues to be close to zero, rather than increasing as projected by the Department of Finance in December of 2019, projected population growth would decrease significantly.  In discussing the projections DOF also noted:

The new projections assume the state reverts to net migration flows of around 100,000 per year in the long term, in line with the average during 2010 through 2019… In a scenario with zero net migration, the state’s population peaks at 42 million in 2038 and thereafter declines to 40 million by 2060. (2020-21 Full Budget Summary, p. 207.)

If there is a prolonged, deep recession, birth rates could also be reduced. A study by Brian Finch et. al. of adverse birth outcomes in California during the Great Recession found that the total fertility rate declined just prior to the Great Recession in 2007, and leveled off from 2010 to 2012. Those with a less than High School Education had sharp declines in birth rates after the start of the Great Recession.

While the long term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the California economy and on immigration are still uncertain, it also seems clear that assumptions of future growth in California based on pre-pandemic population trends should be re-examined, as should water supply planning based on those assumptions.

See related commentary from Dan Walters on May 21:

California population may be peaking


This post was updated on May 31, 2020 to include links to Dan Walters’ commentary.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | May 11, 2020

Ag groups’ claims on causes of food shortages don’t hold water

On May 1, 2020, the California Farm Bureau Federation joined the California Farm Water Coalition, the Family Farm Alliance, and many other agricultural groups in sending a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom requesting that the Governortake the necessary steps to help secure next year’s food supply” by directing “your agencies and departments to find ways to maximize water supplies for farmers this year, until such time that we can normalize the food supply chain from farmer to grocery store shelf.”

But the premise of the Farm Bureau / Farm Water Coalition / Family Farm Alliance letter falls apart on close examination. The disruptions to the food supply chain from the COVID-19 pandemic are not based on a lack of production in the fields.  Rather, the disruptions are based on major shifts in consumption patterns because of the pandemic and on resulting problems with distribution.

The California Farm Bureau Federation conducted an online survey of members between April 7 and April 21.  As reported in the Central Valley Business Times, “nearly 57 percent of respondents said they had lost customers or sales during the pandemic, with most citing stay-at-home orders that had closed customers’ businesses.”

In the past few months, California has seen fresh produce plowed under, and milk being dumped.  There has been a shortage of the same commodities in grocery stores, and record demand at food banks.

Lettuce California USDA

Lettuce field   Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS

Fresh produce

In Coalinga, Harris Farms reported plowing under 6 million heads of iceberg lettuce on over 254 acres because there was no market, due to loss of food service sales. An April 11, 2020 article by Manuela Tobias and Robert Rodriguez stated:

For many farmers, it’s more cost-effective to let crops rot in the fields. They can’t afford to harvest it if there is no market for it, and food banks can’t cover the full cost of labor.

“The food system was built to make sure every single Outback Steakhouse and Chili’s has access to every single food item,” said Cannon Michael, president of Bowles Farming Company in Los Banos. “To have a system like that means that if the demand collapses, there’s a ton of waste that happens.”

Plowing produce crops under when prices are too low has been a long standing issue in California. As reported by Manuela Tobias in October 2019, Gregory Baker et. al. at Santa Clara University found that

…farmers tend to overproduce to fulfill their contracts with buyers. They plant about a third more than they need in case of weather, pests, plant disease, labor availability, field stability and over-or under-sized crops. If after delivering, the price is too low, they leave the rest to rot.

Milk and dairy products

Tobias and Rodriguez’ April 11, 2020 article also stated,

Dairy farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, the center of the state’s dairy industry, were forced to dump thousands of gallons of raw milk in recent weeks because restaurants, schools and exports have all but dried up.

“We’re producing 10% more than we can process,” said Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairies. “That’s a lot of milk.”

One of the main reasons cited by dairies for not providing the surplus milk to food banks, was that “federal regulations require that milk be processed first, and that costs money dairy farmers don’t have right now.”

Food insecurity from economic disruption

The problems with getting food to stores are thus due to disruptions in the supply chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The disconnect between food production and food availability to California’s families will likely get worse as economic impacts of the pandemic ripple through the economy.

According to an April 23, 2020 memo prepared by the Kern County Water Agency for their April Board meeting packet, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority

…delivered its “footprint” engineering to DWR on April 1, 2020. The “footprint” engineering serves as the starting point for the environmental analysis necessary for the EIR.

According to a timeline in the Kern County Water Agency memo, the Department of Water Resources was going to produce cost estimates for the Delta tunnel project by the end of April.  The cost estimates would likely be needed to inform the negotiations with the State Water Contractors for an Agreement in Principle on a contract for the Delta Conveyance.

KCWA Delta tunnel timeline

The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority’s transmission of the initial Delta tunnel project “footprint” appears to not be in conformance with requirements of the Delta Plan.  Delta Plan policy P2 requires consultation with local agencies and the Delta Protection Commission on siting of the project facilities.

P2. Respect Local Land Use when Siting Water or Flood Facilities or Restoring Habitats.

(a) Water management facilities, ecosystem restoration, and flood management infrastructure must be sited to avoid or reduce conflicts with existing uses or those uses described or depicted in city and county general plans for their jurisdictions or spheres of influence when feasible, considering comments from local agencies and the Delta Protection Commission. Plans for ecosystem restoration must consider sites on existing public lands, when feasible and consistent with a project’s purpose, before privately owned sites are purchased. Measures to mitigate conflicts with adjacent uses may include, but are not limited to, buffers to prevent adverse effects on adjacent farmland.

(underlining added.)

Although the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority has appointed Dr. Mel Lytle, Assistant Director of Utilities for the City of Stockton to the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee, no other Delta water districts are participating in the Stakeholder Engagement Committee, nor are Delta counties.

Secretary Wade Crowfoot wrote to Delta stakeholders in September of 2019 and explained that the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee was not meant to be the primary venue for stakeholder input on the project.

On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, the Delta tunnel Stakeholder Engagement Committee (SEC) met to consider the design for the Southern Forebay proposed by the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority.  Prior to the meeting, several Stakeholder Engagement Committee members had written to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority, requesting postponement of further SEC meetings until Governor Newsom’s shelter in place order is lifted.

Many SEC members spoke out strongly at the beginning of the SEC meeting, requesting that future meetings be postponed until Delta residents could engage on the project design. The members were told by DCA Executive Director Kathryn Mallon that “the due date is not moving.”  Mallon said that the Stakeholder Engagement Committee members could choose to not meet, but if so, they would simply lose the opportunity to have any input into the project design.

Carrie Buckman, DWR’s Environmental Program Manager, gave an exceedingly vague explanation, stating that “we are trying to move this forward in an expedient manner …. because we want to continue this planning effort.”

It is clear that the real driver of the rigid deadlines is the engineering design schedule for the single tunnel project.  The engineering design schedule is based on having a final engineering design by the end of FY 2021-22, the original deadline for the twin tunnels project final engineering design.

Below is the current status of the engineering design schedule, from Executive Director Kathryn Mallon’s Report in the April 16, 2020 DCA Board meeting packet, p. 37.  Mallon’s report states that the DCA is four weeks behind based on deliverable status, and that “the engineering team has ramped up their resources and will continue recovering the time in the upcoming month.”

The Conceptual Engineering Report is scheduled to be finished by the end of September, with the conceptual tunnel and shaft design finished in May, the conceptual design of the intakes and pumping plant in August, and the South Delta forebay and conveyance to Banks pumping plant in September.

DCA April 2020 engineering schedule

The engineering schedule is basically the same as the original WaterFix / twin tunnels engineering design schedule.  Below is the 2018 WaterFix project engineering / construction schedule from the January 2018 edition of Tunnel Talk Magazine.  Only the land acquisition, utilities and site work, and construction activities have been paused.

Year 1 – 2018 – Requests for Qualifications (RFQs) and leadership staffing
Year 2 — 2019 — Engineering design and field work contracts signed, preliminary engineering
Year 3 — 2020 — Preliminary engineering
Year 4 — 2021 — Intakes and pumping plant design finished
Year 5 — 2022 — Final engineering design


There is no room in this schedule for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | April 21, 2020

The Project Formerly Known as WaterFix

Although the Department of Water Resources rescinded all approvals of WaterFix project in May of 2019, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority has been continuing engineering and geotechnical work on a single tunnel project under supervision of the Department of Water Resources.

In June of 2019, Delta Defenders, the Delta Chambers and Visitor’s Bureau, North Delta Cares, and other Delta community-based organizations sent a letter to the Department of Water Resources asking that DWR cancel the Notice to Proceed on the Delta tunnel contracts.  In response DWR’s Deputy Director Gary Lippner stated:

we have rescinded all WaterFix-related permitting, approvals and applications. Neither the Department of Water Resources (DWR) nor the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) is continuing work on that project or currently performing any new planning based on the previous WaterFix approvals.

But in December 2019 DCA Director Kathryn Mallon met with engineers from five international tunneling firms to review the engineering design for the single tunnel project.  For specifications of project facilities, Mallon gave the engineers a copy of the July 2018 WaterFix Conceptual Engineering Report.  And in January 2020 the DCA’s Engineering Manager, Phil Ryan, announced that the DCA had used information from the WaterFix project to decide that the intake design and locations from the previous project would be used for the new single tunnel project.

Intake 2

Fishing groups strongly opposed the massive WaterFix intakes as far too large for the tidal location and likely catastrophic for salmon.  The Delta communities of Hood and Clarksburg were horrified at the noise impacts from construction of the massive intakes.

EIS noise contours

Modifications to the WaterFix intake design and location are critical to limiting the impacts of the single tunnel on Delta communities and fish, as directed by Governor Newsom.  But when the DCA’s Stakeholder Engagement Committee members and members of the public asked if the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority would analyze alternative locations for the intakes, DWR’s representative said to submit them as part of the CEQA scoping comments.  Those comments were due during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta Counties, Delta residents, Delta business owners, Delta community-based organizations, Tribal representatives, fishing and non-governmental organizations have all asked the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to pause Delta tunnel planning processes that require public participation due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Water Resources has refused. California Water Research and Delta Defenders submitted CEQA scoping comments which argued that, to the extent that scoping is used to determine the only alternatives to be analyzed by the DCA in their engineering design efforts, DWR’s process is an abuse of discretion.


Under the supervision of the Department of Water Resources, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority has been conducting outreach to Delta stakeholders on the engineering design for the Delta tunnel.

In November 2019, the DCA appointed 16 Delta stakeholders to a Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee. The members represented a broad range of Delta interests, from Delta businesses to sportfishing, recreation, environmental justice, an aquatic and terrestrial NGOs.  Each committee member was tasked with receiving information on the proposed Delta tunnel project design and conveying the information to their respective stakeholders, and conveying feedback on the proposed design to the DCA. In making the appointments, the DCA reserved the right to remove committee members at any time, and for no reason.

The continuation of the Delta stakeholder engagement process during the COVID-19 pandemic has been strongly opposed by Delta Counties, Delta residents and several Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee members.

On March 16, 2020 Karen Mann, the president of Save the California Delta Alliance, sent a letter to DWR  Director Karla Nemeth and the DCA Executive Director, Kathryn Mallon calling for a pause in the Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings.

Malissa Tayaba, the Tribal representative to the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee, sent a letter to the DCA calling for the Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings to be put on hold. The letter cited the fact that both the state AB 52 and federal National Historic Preservation Act processes were paused due to the pandemic.

Delta Defenders, a Delta community-based organization, also sent a letter to Karla Nemeth and the DCA calling for a pause in the Delta tunnel stakeholder engagement process.  The letter cited the effects of the pandemic on Delta Counties, Delta cities, Delta legacy communities, Delta businesses, and Delta residents.

On April 7, the Delta Counties Coalition sent a letter to Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot requesting that the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings be put on hold.

The Delta Counties Coalition (DCC) respectfully requests that you direct the
Department of Water Resources (DWR) to pause all Delta Conveyance Project planning and engineering design processes that require Delta stakeholder engagement during the COVID-19 crisis, until the public can fully participate. We request that you ask the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) to pause its processes that require public participation, including Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings, so that the Delta tunnel engineering design can be informed by meaningful public input. We also ask that you direct DWR and other resource agencies to extend public comment periods by at least 45 days beyond the end of the declared emergency.

At the Delta Protection Commission’s April 9, 2020 teleconference meeting, the DCA’s Executive Director, Kathryn Mallon, attempted to report to the DPC nenbers that the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee members were “willing and able to continue” with Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings during the pandemic. Mallon’s report failed spectacularly when committee members spoke during public comment and contradicted her.

The Delta Protection Commission  meeting agenda had an update by Kathryn Mallon on the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee:

  1. Receive update on Delta Conveyance Project environmental review and Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) Stakeholder Engagement Committee – Carrie Buckman (California Department of Water Resources) and Kathryn Mallon (DCA)

Mallon presented a glossy powerpoint about the DCA’s Stakeholder Engagement Committee process.  During her presentation, Mallon said that the DCA staff had talked to the SEC members and they were all willing and able to continue via web and teleconference, with the exception of one SEC member who had a situation with a family member with an illness.

Then the DPC had public comment.  Jesus Tarango (SEC Tribal Representative alternate), and representatives from many other tribes spoke and said they did not want the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings and other tunnel planning processes to continue.  Malissa Tayaba (SEC Tribal representative) sent a letter asking that the process be paused until 45 days after the public health emergency is declared over.

Cecille Giacoma (SEC Public Safety Representative) said that she told the DCA staff there was no way her constituents could engage, and said that they were having issues with an increase in crime in her area, and public safety officers not being around because of the pandemic.

Anna Swenson (SEC Sacramento County at large Representative) said that she had her 5 kids at home and that she had told the DCA that she couldn’t engage right now.

The Delta Protection Commission members then agreed that the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee process needed to pause.  The DPC voted to send a letter asking DWR and the DCA to postpone the Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings.

On April 9, Restore the Delta has sent a letter to Governor Newsom calling for a pause in public processes related to the Delta tunnel planning.

The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority has it’s next Board meeting on Thursday, April 16.   The Board meeting packet includes a report by DCA consultant Nazli Parvizi’s on the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee. Parvizi’s report has no mention of the opposition by Stakeholder Engagement Committee members to the continuation of the meetings during the pandemic.  Stakeholder Engagement Committee members have reported being pressured by Parvizi to participate in the next SEC meeting on April 22.

None of the letters of opposition to the continuation of the DCA’s Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings during the pandemic are included in the April 16 Board meeting packet, and, as of April 14, none have been posted on the DCA’s website.

This post was updated at 11:30 am on April 14 to link to letters from the Delta Protection Commission and Delta Defenders.

On Wednesday, March 19, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority  ((DCA) held their monthly Board meeting via web conference.  For the meeting, DCA engineer Phil Ryan presented maps of a modified WaterFix project, with two intakes, a single tunnel, and new access roads.  A second set of maps for a potential eastern alignment of the main tunnel was also presented.
The DCA Executive Director’s report stated,
There were two meetings of the Stakeholder
Engagement Committee in February. The first meeting
(Feb 12) focused on design, siting, and logistics of launch
shafts. The engineering team presented a shaft siting
methodology and analysis results and invited feedback
from the SEC members. The second meeting (Feb 26)
focused on design, siting, and logistics of retrieval and
maintenance shafts.
The DCA has been reviewing individual system
components with the SEC working our way form North to
South. The Committee has asked that we start providing
more “system-wide” information so the upcoming
meetings will look at the entire alignment with selected
sites to help facilitate SEC feedback.
The Executive Director’s report showed that the March 25 Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee meeting was cancelled, but meetings scheduled for April 22 and May 27 are still planned.  The DCA continues planning to require responses to the proposed Delta tunnel design, in spite of a heartfelt plea by Delta residents to postpone further stakeholder engagement until the public health emergency is more under control.
The DCA Executive Director’s report shows that the DCA is still trying to meet the original engineering schedule, in spite of the pandemic.  The conceptual tunnel and shaft engineering design is scheduled to be finished in May of 2020.
Finishing the tunnel and shaft design by May of 2020 with any real Delta stakeholder input would appear to be increasingly unrealistic.  On Saturday, March 21, at Governor Newsom’s request, President Trump declared a major disaster in California. As of Monday, March 23, 2020, COVID-19 cases in the United States are doubling every two to three days.
The DCA’s plan to conduct Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings by web conference during what is likely to be the height of the pandemic in California simply fails to consider the very real impacts on Delta communities.


Under the supervision of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) is providing “engineering, field studies and design work to inform the environmental planning process, and assist[ance] in evaluating and minimizing community impacts” for the Delta Tunnel project.

On December 4-6, 2019, the DCA convened an Independent Technical Review Panel for the single tunnel project design.  The panel included engineers from major international tunneling contractors – Herrenknecht, Dragados, Kiewit, Frontier-Kemper, Obayashi, and McMillen-Jacobs.


For the review, the Independent Technical Review Panel was given a copy of the July 2018 WaterFix Conceptual Engineering Report, even though all project approvals have been rescinded. A draft copy of a construction schedule for a project with a single tunnel in the WaterFix main tunnel alignment, which is now called the “Central Corridor,” was also provided.  Clearly the DCA has been considering a modified version of the WaterFix project.

But as explained in our February 24, 2020 blog post, the Independent Technical Review Panel threw a major monkey wrench into those plans.  The panel unanimously found that the Central Corridor  is ‘impractical,” and recommended that the route not be studied further.

On January 20, 2019, the Department of Water Resources issued a Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report on the Delta Conveyance.   Potential routes included both the Central Corridor and an Eastern Corridor.

Single tunnel NOP map

On January 31, 2019, the Independent Technical Review Panel submitted their formal report to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority.   The report was not disclosed until mid-February, when it was included in the packet for the February 20, 2020 Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority Board meeting.

Both the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority, and the Department of Water Resources have since rejected the recommendations of the Independent Technical Review Committee.  The minutes of the February 26, 2020 DCA Stakeholder Engagement Committee meeting record that Ms. Mallon as stating:

As part of the ITR team’s analysis, they took a bus tour around the Delta. As contractors, their perspective is about ease of access to locations, how to get workers and equipment to possible siting locations, as well as rescues in case of emergency. From this standpoint, Stockton looks great. DCA’s first reaction to that, however, is that there are environmental justice (EJ) and air quality issues. DCA could have told the ITR team that they went outside their purview in remarking on the corridors, but instead their recommendation was included in the report and made transparent to SEC members.

Carrie Buckman, the Department of Water Resources’ Environmental Program Manager  stated:

The recommendations in the ITR are not necessarily determining factors for the overall project, and it is too early in the process to know whether or not those recommendations will be used to make ultimate decisions. The ITR is one piece of information in a large process that will include a lot of other pieces of information. The ITR is useful to help understand the logistical challenges of the Central Corridor and helps bring greater understanding to what would need to be done in order to resolve the logistics issues, but the ITR recommendation is in no way a screening out of the Central Corridor.

Thus it seems clear that both the DCA and DWR are continuing to pursue a single tunnel in the Central Corridor / WaterFix project alignment, even though the Independent Technical Review Panel stated that the logistics for the Central Corridor made it difficult to even bid.

In response to statements by Kathryn Mallon and Carrie Buckman, Stakeholder Engagement Committee member Dr. Mel Lytle, the Deputy City Manager for the City of Stockton, stated,

The people brought in to conduct the ITR were major experts on very difficult projects. Werner Berger [Herrenknecht] is tunneling beneath the Alps. The team at McMillen Jacobs are the ones who engineered the third intake on Lake Mead that was so dangerous and controversial. The things they said should not be discounted. The ITR didn’t just address logistics. Drive length and TBM maintenance was also addressed. They also addressed posed questions for consideration such as how to respond if the TBM gets stuck. Their input should be very seriously considered, and it was no accident who DCA brought in to participate in the process. The team even included the firm who was in charge of the Alaska Way Viaduct [Dragados], where the 57-foot TBM “Big Bertha” got stuck underneath the city and it took 2-3 years to figure out how to resolve the problem.

The proposed project is a 40-foot diameter TBM that is tunneling 40 miles. There may be four TBM’s, but the process is the same. What happens if the TBM gets stuck? What about safety in the tunnels? These questions raised by the ITR team really need to be expounded upon. Logistics, worker safety, tunneling through a gassy area, etc. are all important considerations. The ITR was a watershed moment for SEC members because it raised a lot of important issues that there have been questions about.

After the “watershed moment” for the DCA’s Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee, the DCA has arranged for the committee members to have private bus tours of the two alignments.  The bus tours were not disclosed on the DCA’s website nor are they open to the public, or even to outside experts working with Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee members.

The DCA’s lead Counsel, Joshua Nelson, stated today that the DCA’s partner agency (DWR) would not allow the tours to be open to the public.  Nelson also stated that since the tours would be split so as not to have a quorum of Stakeholder Engagement Committee members on any one tour, he thought the tours are not subject to the Brown Act.

The private tours arranged by the DCA for Delta Stakeholder Committee members contrast poorly with tours set up by other state agencies.  The Delta Independent Science Board had a boat tour of the Delta on May 2nd of last year with the US Geological Study.  The tour was both noticed on the Delta Stewardship Council’s website, and open to the public as space allowed.   The Delta Protection Commission also had a tour of the McDonald Island Gas Field on July 18. The tour was both noticed on the Delta Protection Commission’s website, and open to the public as space allowed.

The Department of Water Resources’ Notice of Preparation for the Delta Conveyance Project shows two potential alignments for the main tunnel.   The “Central Corridor” is the route of the former WaterFix / twin tunnels project.  The “Eastern Corridor” is closer to I-5.

Single tunnel NOP map

The Department of Water Resources did not disclose that an Independent Technical Review Panel, consisting of engineers from major tunneling contractors, found that the Central Corridor route (the WaterFix project route) is impractical due to access problems.  The January 31, 2020 report of the Independent Technical Review Panel was disclosed in the February 20 meeting packet for the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority Board.  The report stated:

The consensus among the ITR was that the Central Corridor is logistically impractical and the ITR does not recommend this corridor be further studied. The shaft locations are located a significant distance from Interstate 5, accessible by only farm roads with hindrances such as narrow weight-restricted bridges and single lanes. This makes supporting large operations, which requires a constant transfer of materials and people in and out, impractical and expensive as well as difficult to price. In addition, addressing safety, including hospital access and tunnel safety duplication, creates a costly layer or redundancy without definitive costs.

The Independent Technical Review Panel instead recommended that a “far eastern” route be studied.   The ITR recommended that one of the shafts be shifted closer to industrialized Stockton, stating, “[t]his site allows for segment production if desired and barge facilities to be developed. It is also adjacent to rail.”

Far Eastern tunnel route

The Department of Water Resources did not include the proposed Far East Alignment Corridor in the Notice of Preparation.

Ironically, in February 2010, the Independent Technical Review Panel for the twin tunnels project made the same recommendation, namely “a realignment of the tunnel conveyance to the east would yield better conditions both for constructing tunnel shafts (portals) and for boring the tunnels.”  But DWR’s Engineers rejected the Eastern Route, stating:

Relocating the tunnel to the eastern side of the Delta would put it outside the Conveyance Planning Area and would in all probability cause a delay in the environmental process.  An eastern alignment for the tunnel would also be much longer and would cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion more than the current alignment.

Ironically, the 2020 Independent Technical Review Panel for the single tunnel found that the Central Corridor route would likely cost more than the Eastern Route, stating:

While it was recognized that extensive roadway, levee, and likely barge improvements could be constructed as part of the project for the Central Corridor, the ITR offered:

    • The cost of improvements to provide reliable and safe access and egress at each site would exceed the cost of additional length of tunnel required for the East alignment. […]
    • Labor and construction safety costs, regardless of improvements, are too uncertain to price due to the location and distance from any shaft on the Central Alignment to developed land/communities.

DWR’s deferral of consideration of mitigation for transportation impacts and safety costs in the twin tunnels environmental documents delayed accurate comparison of the costs and difficulties of the central and eastern tunnel routes for a decade.

President Trump is going to visit the San Joaquin Valley this week, and is likely to announce approval of plans to dramatically increase federal exports of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the San Joaquin Valley.  Experts have predicted that the increased Delta pumping will have catastrophic impacts on endangered fish in the Delta and migrating salmon, as well as worsening Delta water quality.

While the gutting of Endangered Species Act restrictions on Delta pumping will increase profits of industrial growers on the West side of the San Joaquin Valley, it is not likely to help impoverished local communities such as Huron and Mendota, which have been impacted by large scale land fallowing due to soil and groundwater salinization.

About a third of the irrigated land in the San Joaquin Valley has naturally occurring salts, and was reclaimed by dumping tons of gypsum onto it and flooding it with water.  The gypsum reacts with the salt to create sodium bicarbonate, which is then washed down into the groundwater.  Since west side soils are underlain by a clay layer, unless the soil is drained, the groundwater eventually percolates back up into the root zone, and the land loses productivity.  Sometimes salt even appears on the soil as a white crust.

Salt Crust Tulare Lake Basin

Land with salt crust, Tulare Lake region     California Water Research

The soils are further impaired by the presence of boron, a naturally occurring trace mineral.  Another trace mineral, selenium, is toxic to fish and wildlife. The federal government paid to retire 37,100 acres of land in Westlands in 2002, due to high concentrations of selenium in the soil.

But the Valley has hundreds of thousands more acres of marginal land that is likely unprofitable to farm.  Remote sensing data shows 519,000 acres of land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and in the Tulare Lake region that is strongly or extremely impaired by salinity.  Another 436,000 acres of land is moderately impaired by salinity and could go out of production over the next 20 years.


Salinity on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley        Scudiero et al.

Growers have been fallowing salt-impaired land and reallocating surface water supplies to permanent crops on better land.  Westlands Water District’s 2017 Water Management Plan Update shows a loss of 174,602 acres from irrigated production since 1985.  On page 35, it shows 143,820 acres exempt Agricultural Best Management Plans (BMPs) because the land has been converted to non-irrigated uses, including dry farming, grazing, and solar power.

Westlands 2017 BMPs

Local communities have been left to deal with blowing dust and the loss of local jobs.  The town of Huron is an example.  Two of five residents live in poverty.  “Agua es vida,” they have been told by the growers.  “Water is life.”  But the simple fact is that there is currently no financially viable way to bring the salt-impaired lands back into production.   And many farmworker jobs are also being lost to mechanization.

Westlands fallowed

Fallowed land, Westlands Water District       California Water Research

Huron’s Mayor, Rey Leon, sees the future of Huron in Westlands’ planned 20,000 acre solar farm and the Valley’s growing renewable energy industry. The UC Berkeley Labor Center reported that construction of Renewable Energy Portfolio projects created 88,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley between 2002 and 2015.  Energy efficiency projects created another 17,400 jobs. A 2017 study found that entry level jobs on 27 solar projects in Kern County were largely filled by workers from disadvantaged communities. Of 1,862 entry-level workers, 43 percent lived in disadvantaged communities, and 47 percent lived in communities with unemployment rates of at least 13 percent.

Westlands solar park

Westlands Solar Park        Sierra2theSea

Leon’s February 14, 2020 Editorial in the Fresno Bee stated,

“We can save our Valley communities and create a better world for future generations… We need more rooftop solar and battery storage at our homes. We need electric cars and buses with solar-powered charging stations in our neighborhoods. And we need new solar and wind farms combined with large-scale energy storage to ensure that clean energy is always available.

[…] These projects can be paired with substantive community benefits for equity in opportunities, including student scholarships, skills upgrading and employment. This approach will allow us to transition away from polluting fossil fuels once and for all while we uplift our community and quality of life.

It seems clear that the future of Huron and other west side San Joaquin Valley communities lies in a transition to a sustainable economy with good jobs, not in unsustainable industrial agriculture.

This post was updated to add a map of Westlands’ solar park.



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