Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | May 21, 2018

WaterFix: tunneling under levees

Construction of two 40′ diameter tunnels in the deep, soft alluvial soils in the Sacramento San-Joaquin Delta is a significant engineering challenge, particularly since it involves tunnel boring under Delta levees. In 2015, Central Delta Water Agency expressed major concerns that the WaterFix Partially Recirculated EIR/EIS failed to “adequately investigate, discuss or analyze, much less mitigate” the risks to Delta levees from tunnel boring. In 2018, San Joaquin County and the San Joaquin County Flood Control agency put on testimony in the State Water Resources Control Board’s WaterFix Change Petition Hearing that the preliminary geotechnical engineering for the Delta tunnels was inadequate and risks to Delta levees had not been addressed. This blog post examines those concerns.

Chapter 9 of the WaterFix Final EIR/EIS includes a discussion of the risks of settlement from tunnel boring. This is the section:

Impact GEO-3: Loss of Property, Personal Injury, or Death from Ground Settlement during Construction of Water Conveyance Features

Two types of ground settlement could be induced during tunneling operations: large settlement and systematic settlement. Large settlement occurs primarily as a result of over-excavation by the tunneling shield. The over-excavation is caused by failure of the tunnel boring machine to control unexpected or adverse ground conditions (for example, running, raveling, squeezing, and flowing ground) or operator error. Large settlement can lead to the creation of voids and/or sinkholes above the tunnel. In extreme circumstances, this settlement can affect the ground surface, potentially causing loss of property or personal injury above the tunneling operation.

Systematic settlement usually results from ground movements that occur before tunnel supports can exit the shield and the tunnel to make full contact with the ground. Soil with higher silt and clay content tend to experience less settlement than sandy soil. (p. 9-195)

The diagram below illustrates the surface settlement trough from tunnel boring. The WaterFix Final EIR/EIS estimates that the maximum systematic settlement could be up to 2.9 inches, with a settlement trough width of 328 to 525 feet.

The WaterFix Final EIR/EIS does not contain any analysis of the effects of settlement from tunnel boring on the Delta levees, implying that it will be done in the future:

the following federal design manuals and professional society and geotechnical literature would be used to predict the maximum amount of settlement that could occur for site-specific conditions, to identify the maximum allowable settlement for individual critical assets, and to develop recommendations for tunneling to avoid excessive settlement, all to minimize the likelihood of loss of property or personal injury from ground settlement above the tunneling operation during construction. (p. 9-288.)

But the WaterFix Final EIR/EIS does not even designate the Delta levees as “critical infrastructure,” stating only that the critical infrastructure will be determined in the future:

Other facilities that may be determined to be critical infrastructure include natural gas pipelines, the proposed EBMUD tunnel, levees, and local electrical distribution and communication lines. (p. 9-288.)

It is unclear why DWR did not designate the Delta levees as critical infrastructure during the 10 years of preliminary engineering for the WaterFix. The WaterFix Final EIR/EIS does discuss the risks of large ground settlements when tunneling, stating:

Operator errors or highly unfavorable/unexpected ground conditions could result in larger settlement. Large ground settlements caused by tunnel construction are almost always the result of using inappropriate tunneling equipment (incompatible with the ground conditions), improperly operating the machine, or encountering sudden or unexpected changes in ground conditions. (p. 9-288, emphasis added.)

Two civil engineers testified in Part 2 of the Water Board’s WaterFix hearing that highly unfavorable and variable ground conditions can be expected in the Delta, and that there are significant risks from tunnel boring. San Joaquin County and the San Joaquin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District put on testimony by Josef Tootle, the Principal Geotechnical Engineer with ENGEO Incorporated, who has 20 years of experience with geotechnical design for projects in the Delta. Tootle testified that recent geotechnical exploration in the Delta by the University of Texas showed that

… the sediments underlying the Delta were both softer and more variable than the engineering consultant had expected. The sediments were in fact so variable that the University of Texas had difficulty interpreting the results at depths greater than 100 feet. (p. 9.)

Tootles’ testimony was corroborated by Chris Neudeck, the District engineer and Local Agency Representative for 26 of the Reclamation Districts in the Delta. Neudeck’s testimony related experience with two “near-misses” in tunnel boring in the Delta. The first was in boring of a 50 inch diameter sewer line for the City of Stockton Municipal Utilities Department beneath Shima Tract’s levee, and the second in boring a 72 inch diameter interconnect pipeline to Contra Costa Water District’s second Delta intake on Victoria Canal. While the WaterFix tunnels are much deeper, they are also much larger.

Tootle also testified that the preliminary engineering for the WaterFix project is inadequate because the geotechnical investigations to date do not meet accepted standards for preliminary engineering:

…the geotechnical site investigations to date do not meet the accepted standards for a project of any size, let alone a major project in the Delta. A registered civil engineer in the State of California who proceeded to detailed design using only the presently available data would likely be judged to not be acting in accordance with the generally accepted standard of care. And, without more detailed designs, the Petitioners’ assurances on multiple issues appear to be meaningless (p. 8.)

Tootle concluded that there is significant risk in tunneling under Delta levees, stating:

there can be little assurance (and Petitioners have provided none) that the ambitious tunneling activities at critical locations, such as under levees, will not result in serious injury to the integrity of the Delta’s complex levee system and other infrastructure essential to public safety and economic productivity in Delta communities (p. 7.)

Tom Williams, a PhD geologist who has consulted on tunnel and pipeline projects all over the world, raised similar concerns in testimony in Part 1 of the WaterFix hearing.about the inadequacy of DWR’s geotechnical site investigations, and the deferment of mitigations for risk to levees and other critical structures.

DWR’s 2010 internal, unreleased preliminary engineering report shows that independent reviewers of the tunnel design recommended that DWR move the tunnel alignment to the east to provide better ground conditions for constructing the tunnel shafts and boring the tunnels. The document shows that the recommendation was rejected because of cost considerations:

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.

The document also states:

Not enough is known about the geology in the eastern alignment to say that it much better than the current alignment.

The 2010 recommendations of the independent reviewers to move the tunnel alignment to the east were not disclosed by DWR.

DWR’s construction schedule for the WaterFix, included in DWR’s Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement, may increase risks to the Delta levees from tunnel boring. The construction schedule assumes continuous boring of the Delta tunnels, with no breaks for winter months or for times of high water. The continuous construction schedule saves time and money by avoiding winter work stoppages, but at the cost of greatly increased impacts should the integrity of the Delta levees be compromised.

1 Tyler Island repairs during high water in January 2017

The WaterFix Final Draft Conceptual Engineering Report has a safety plan, but it just requires construction of ring levees around the tunnel shafts to protect the tunnels from flooding. There is no safety plan addressing risks to people on Delta islands in the event of a levee breach during tunnel construction.

The WaterFix Final EIR/EIS CEQA conclusion only addresses hazards to WaterFix construction workers and project structures, stating:

DWR has made conformance to geotechnical design recommendations and monitoring an environmental commitment (see Appendix 3B, Environmental Commitments, AMMs, and CMs). Hazards to workers and project structures would be controlled at safe levels and there would be no increased likelihood of loss of property, personal injury or death due to construction of Alternative 4A. The impact would be less than significant. No mitigation is required (p. 9-289.)

Chris Neudeck testified in the Water Board’s WaterFix hearing that the Department of Water Resources had never contacted the Delta Reclamation Districts he represents about monitoring of settlement of the levees during tunneling boring or mitigation of risks.

The Revised Final Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement between the Department of Water Resources and the WaterFix Design and Construction Joint Powers Authority includes a statement of compliance with all applicable laws:

In carrying out its obligations under this Agreement, the Authority and its agents shall comply with all applicable federal, State, or local laws existing during the term of this Agreement, including those pertaining to the use, storage, transportation and disposal of any hazardous substance as that term is defined in such applicable law. (p. 5.)

However, the WaterFix proponents are also seeking to exempt the permits issued for the WaterFix from judicial review. The Fiscal Year 2019 House Interior-EPA Appropriations Bill contains the following language:


SEC. 437. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Final Environmental Impact Report/Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan/California Water Fix (81 Fed. Reg. 96485 (Dec. 25 30, 2016)) and any resulting agency decision, record of decision, or similar determination shall hereafter not be subject to judicial review under any Federal or State law.

Appendix C of the Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement contains a long list of permits that will be obtained by the WaterFix Design and Construction Joint Powers Authority, including certification under section 401 and 404 of the Clean Water Act, and under Rivers and Harbors Act section 408 by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | May 10, 2018

WaterFix hearing: chief tunnels engineer on sea level rise

Metropolitan Water District’s Chief Engineer, John Bednarski, testified in the WaterFix hearing on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 about the WaterFix facilities design and construction. Mr. Bednarski addressed numerous issues raised in testimony by California Water Research’s principal scientist, Deirdre Des Jardins on the inadequacy of the sea level rise analysis for the WaterFix tunnel design.

The WaterFix Final Conceptual Engineering report states that the WaterFix facilities are being designed for  an 18 inches of change in high water levels in the North Delta.   As reported by California Water Research, the WaterFix EIR/EIS discloses that underestimating sea level rise in the design of the WaterFix facilities could result in harmful impacts such as flooding.

Liberty Island, flooded in 1998

Mr. Bednarski testified on cross-examination that he believed that 55 inches of sea level rise at the Golden Gate translated to 18 inches of sea level rise at the Delta tunnel intakes at Hood. This was based on a 2009 Technical Memo by Phillip Mineart . Cross-examination by California Water Research on the Technical Memo that Mr. Bednarski was relying on showed the following:

  1. The increase in mean high water elevation at Freeport and other locations in the Delta with 55 inches of sea level rise at the Golden Gate was predicted by the technical memo to be 54 inches

  1. The change in predicted 200 year flood elevation was dominated by river flows, so was less, but varied throughout the Delta.
  2. The analysis of 200 year flood elevation was based on very simplistic analysis (Manning’s equation) from the Delta Risk Management Strategy that assumed that the Delta channels would be unchanged by sea level rise.
  3. The DRMS analysis had been criticized by one of the Independent Science Panel reviewers as very simplistic and inadequate even for the Delta Risk Management Strategy.

It is difficult to believe that a $17 billion project has had ten years of engineering design without doing an adequate analysis of the effects of sea level rise on water levels in the Delta.

Bednarski testified on cross-examination that they would be addressing sea level rise in the next engineering revision.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board voted 4-3 today to participate in the California WaterFix project. The reasoning of the Board of Directors reflected the complexity, cost and risk of the hugely controversial project.

The megaproject faces stiff opposition from Northern California water agencies and local governments, including the Delta counties of San Joaquin, Contra Costa, Sacramento, Yolo, and Solano, and the Delta cities of Stockton, Antioch, and Brentwood.  San Joaquin County attorney Tom Keeling, one of several Delta attorneys who spoke in opposition to the project at the SCVWD Board hearing, called the project a “litigation risk on steroids.”

Director Linda LeZotte opposed the project, citing the risks of the North Delta diversions to the Delta estuary. Although SCVWD staff had provided her with reading material about the adaptive management process and the Biological Opinions governing the North Delta diversions, she stated that they did not convince her that the Delta would not suffer adverse impacts.

Director John Varela opposed the project, citing the overall risks of the project, including the risks of cost escalation.

Director Richard Santos opposed the project, citing liability of the District for damages during construction. Although the draft Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Agreement attempted to indemnify the water agencies from an liability, Director Santos stated that he had talked to several attorneys, and they had all said, “you’re liable.”

Director Barbara Keegan supported the project, but acknowledged concerns expressed by residents in Discovery Bay about impacts on boating and Delta recreation. She stated that the SCVWD appointed representative would be bringing the construction impacts to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction JPA Board. “Someone has to stand up and say, ‘this is a problem.'”

Director Tony Estremera supported the project, citing the need to “have a seat at the table.”

Director Gary Kremen supported the project.

The Board’s support for the controversial project was ultimately decided by the vote of Director Nai Hsueh, who expressed her confidence in the state government to “do the right thing.” Ms. Hsueh is a hydraulic engineer who previously worked for the Santa Clara Valley Water District for three decades.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | May 7, 2018

WaterFix: Impacts on the historic town of Locke

According to the Locke Foundation, in 1990, when the town of Locke was designated a National Historic Landmark, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior stated:

Founded in 1915, Locke is the largest and most intact surviving example of an historic rural Chinese-American community in the United States, including more than 50 commercial and residential buildings and covering approximately 14 acres along the east bank of the Sacramento River, south of the city of Sacramento. Locke is the only such community remaining in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which was a particularly important area of rural Chinese settlement.

1 Locke in 1920 Source: Locke Foundation

Locke historian James Motlow is the author of Bitter Melon, a compilation of historical photographs and oral histories of Locke. Motlow testified in the WaterFix Water Right Change Petition Hearing:

In 1882 the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the only law in American history that specifically forbade the immigration of people based exclusively on race. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta was one of the few western sites where Chinese escaped violence, though not the impact of this law. Many came to the town of Locke. Locke was established in 1915 on land rented from the estate of Sacramento furniture dealer George Locke. Almost one hundred years later, after fighting for it for decades, the residents of Locke were finally able to own the land beneath their homes. Today, Locke is a place where the past is actively remembered. It is a kind of living museum, where thousands come every year to experience a vital history that is as relevant today as it was a century ago. Groups from a variety of historical and cultural organizations sponsor tours of Locke almost every week of the year.

2 Locke Main Street Source: National Park Service

Motlow testified that routing 24 hour a day construction traffic for the WaterFix on Highway 160 would make it impossible for people to enjoy cultural tours of Locke and would ultimately destroy the town by closing down the local businesses.

3Locke Memorial Garden Source: North Delta Cares

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act required analysis of WaterFix construction impacts on Locke and Walnut Grove. As explained in the WaterFix Final EIR/EIS, the NHPA requires that the lead agencies:

  • Identify an area of potential effects, and within these limits, identify historic properties.
  • Assess adverse effects.
  • Resolve adverse effects (typically through treatment, avoidance, preservation, or other mechanisms identified by the lead agency in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer and interested parties).

But as documented in 2015 comments by the County of Sacramento on the WaterFix Partially Recirculated Draft EIR/EIS, DWR did not follow the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act. The comments stated:

The RDEIR/SDEIS lacks an analysis of the effects of Federal undertakings on historic properties. The Project has not been evaluated at the programmatic level or at the project level. The RDEIR/SDEIS is deficient because analysis of cultural resource impacts has been deferred; instead, analysis is proposed as a mitigation measure. It is impossible to understand the impacts of the preferred project or select an environmentally superior alternative because the necessary evidence, analysis and determinations for all project alternatives have been impermissibly deferred.


Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | May 7, 2018

WaterFix: Construction Noise Impacts

Save the California Delta Alliance explains how noise impacts of the WaterFix project construction on the towns of Hood and Clarksburg are underestimated in the CEQA environmental documents.

At 5:00 pm on May 1, 2018, the Clerk of the Board for the Santa Clara Valley District published the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Joint Powers Agreement  for the construction of the WaterFix project facilities. The Delta Conveyance Joint Powers Agreement states that the Board shall consist of “up to five (5) Directors and five (5) Alternative Directors, with each pair appointed by and representing the following Members or class of Members:”

i. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (State Water Project)

ii. Kern County Water Agency

iii. Santa Clara Valley Water District

iv. State Water Project contractor, selected by otherwise non-represented State Water Project contractors.

v. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Non State Water Project capacity)

The Joint Powers Agreement specifies that “the number of Directors may be expanded to seven (7) Directors and seven (7) Alternative Directors if, at any point after the execution of this Agreement, there are three or more CVP contractors, other than Santa Clara Valley Water District, that desire to become Members. The Delta Conveyance Joint Powers Agreement provides that for the first two years, the Construction JPA president will be the Director appointed by Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the Construction JPA vice president shall be the Director appointed by Metropolitan Water District.

The Joint Powers Agreement attempts to indemnify the member agencies, and the JPA officers, agents, and employees, from liability for any activities conducted under the Joint Powers agreement. The Joint Powers Agreement further provides that the JPA will defend the member agencies against “any claim, cause of action, liability, or damage resulting therefrom.”

The Joint Powers Agreement states that the JPA “may purchase such insurance as the Board may deem appropriate,” but does not require the JPA to do so. It is unclear if the current WaterFix tunnel design is even insurable, because the WaterFix design process has not met tunneling industry standards for risk management. The second edition of the International Code of Practice for Tunneling was drafted by the International Tunnelling Insurance Group in 2012, and adapted for the United States as the Guidelines for Improved Risk Management on Tunnel and Underground Construction Projects in the United States Of America. The Guidelines were drafted by the Underground Construction Association of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration. According to a description in Tunneling Business Magazine, “The Guidelines recommend a detailed process for doing a risk assessment, and for developing a list of mitigations… The Guidelines reflects the consensus of a wide variety of industry experts and other professionals involved in the tunnel and underground construction industry in the United States.”

The UCA-SME Guidelines state:

The importance of any risk depends not only on the likelihood that something may go wrong, but, if it does occur, how severe the consequence may be. The process of risk management—including risk assessment, characterization, and response, as well as elimination, mitigation, avoidance, transference, or acceptance—is required to identify and clarify ownership of risks and should detail clearly and concisely how the risks are to be allocated, controlled, mitigated, and managed. (underlining added.)

But the Delta Conveyance Joint Powers Agreement denies any ownership of risks by the water agencies constructing the project.  The WaterFix 2015 Final Draft Conceptual Engineering Report also does not clearly identify project risks, and defers risk mitigation to future engineering design.

1 Jones tract levee breach, 2004

As reported by California Water Research, in addition to the risks of tunneling under Delta levees, the seismic design criteria for the WaterFix tunnel lining has yet to be set, and there is no assessment of the performance of the tunnel lining in a maximum considered earthquake. An examination of the 2015 WaterFix Final Draft Conceptual Engineering Report shows that a majority of the tunnel contractors did not want to design the tunnel lining segments, because they did not want the liability.

As also reported by California Water Research, neither Metropolitan Water District nor the Department of Water Resources have made efforts to determine the exact location of abandoned gas wells in the tunnel alignment, although this was recommended in 2010 by an independent review panel. Although the International Code of Practice for Tunneling requires a design checking procedure, no such procedure has been specified for the WaterFix tunnel design process, and it is unclear if the preliminary or final design will have independent review.

The indemnification language in the JPA agreement may not actually indemnify Metropolitan Water District, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Kern County Water Agency, or the State Water Contractors from liability for any claims arising from the WaterFix tunnel design and construction. In Tucker Land Co. v. State of California 2001)1114 Cal. App. 4th 1191, the 2nd District appellate court reviewed Chapter 21 of the Government Code,Tort Liability Under Agreements Between Public Entities, and associated Law Revision Commission opinions. The court concluded “these sections make clear that the Legislature intended that member entities of a JPA be liable for the torts of the JPA.”

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | April 30, 2018

WaterFix tunnel construction: gas wells

The WaterFix/Delta tunnels go through the West Thornton – Walnut Grove and River Island gas fields, just east of the Rio Vista gas field, the largest natural gas field in California.  The map below, a closeup from the map on page 155 the WaterFix 2015 Final Draft Conceptual Engineering Report, shows the high density of gas fields and gas wells in the Delta tunnel alignment near Walnut Grove. The purple shaded areas are gas fields, and the purple dots are gas wells – either producing or abandoned.


gas field map

The 2010 internal DHCCP engineering document for the Delta tunnels discusses precautions recommended by an Independent Review Committee, which were never publicly disclosed by DWR or MWD:

Proposed Tunnel Alignment Revision

The Outside Reviewers recommended the tunnel alignment avoid any active or idle gas wells and minimize intersection with plugged wells due to the potential for damage to the wells by the tunnel boring machines during mining operations.

The 2010 internal DHCCP engineering document also states that the Independent Review Committee recommended the following:

  • Participate in the DOGGR Well Review Program;
  • Obtain permits for any well work (active or abandoned);
  • Given that well coordinates on DOGGR website are not necessarily accurate, conduct a survey to determine their exact location;
  • Avoid all wells to the extent practical; avoid tunneling over wells;
  • Given that DOGGR makes no guarantee that wells are properly abandoned or will not leak after abandonment, address each proximate well specifically;
  • DWR has neither designed nor constructed a project that passes through a gas field or near existing gas wells, either active or abandoned. Accordingly, and as recommended by the Outside Reviewers, engage the services of a petroleum engineering consultant with experience in the installation and abandonment of gas wells (ideally one familiar with the Delta and its gas wells and fields) to advise the DWR and the DHCCP.

MWD has since taken over the WaterFix tunnel engineering, and appears not to have implemented any of these recommendations.

The only mitigation for gas well risk that MWD’s engineers are proposing in the WaterFix Conceptual Engineering Report is to “identify the minimum allowable distance between wells and tunnel excavation” with a future study. The 2015 Conceptual Engineering Report also states that “it is anticipated that the State of California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) may classify the tunnels as ‘potentially gassy.'”

North Delta Cares presented testimony in the WaterFix Water Right Change Petition Hearing by Mark Pruner, who is on the Board of Directors for the Clarksburg Fire Protection District.    Pruner testified on cross-examination that DWR had never discussed the gas well risk with the Clarksburg Fire Protection District, nor disclosed the recommendations of the 2010 Independent Review Committee on tunneling through a gas field.  Pruner testified that the Clarksburg Fire Protection District would have commented that DWR must follow the recommendations of the Independent Review Committee.

DWR’s attorneys objected to the entire line of questioning.

Metropolitan Water District has a disastrous history with tunneling through strata with methane gas. The worst tunneling accident in California history occurred in 1971 during MWD’s boring of the 22′ Sylmar tunnel to Castaic reservoir with a tunnel boring machine.    The Sylmar tunnel was known to go through strata with oil and gas.    As documented by in an engineering journal article by Richard J. Proctor, former Chief Geologist for MWD:

(1) The MWD geologic report, given with the Specifications to all bidders, warned of the possibility of encountering oil and/or gas in the western part of the tunnel route. This warning was based on: (a) producing oil fields in the region; (b) oil and tar seeps in the area; (c) the presence of Pico Formation sandstone in the western part of the tunnel route—a known source-rock of oil; (d) the presence of oil and gas in two nearby tunnels—the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s Newhall Tunnel in 1912, and the MWD’s Balboa Tunnel in 1967; (e) the crossing of the Santa Susana fault, which acts as an oil trap in the nearby Cascade Oil Field.

(2) Several months before the explosion, the contractor posted a notice that stated ”Expect explosive gas ahead.”

There were other factors listed in the article by Proctor.   Lockheed was the low bidder on the tunnel construction contract, and was trying to finish the tunnel quickly to get a bonus from Metropolitan Water District for early completion.  Workers on the tunnel were not adequately trained.  When workers smelled gas, the supervisor stopped work briefly, but then kept going, and did not implement all the recommended precautions.   The day of the fatal explosion, they had to stop work 35 times. Firefighters worked under extremely hazardous conditions in the smoky, water filled tunnel for the next two days, extinguishing fires and searching for workers.

After the fatal explosion, construction was halted for 2 years while MWD, Lockeheed, and OSHA figured out how to proceed safely.   Lockheed also filed a breach of contract suit against MWD for not warning of the real danger of encountering gas during tunnel boring.

1 The Sylmar Tunnel Disaster, June 23, 1971 Source: Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association

There was a 54-week criminal trial against the tunnel contractor, resulting in the highest municipal fines and some of the greatest civil damages awards of its time. After the longest municipal court trial in U.S. history, Lockheed Shipbuilding & Construction Co., a subsidiary of Lockheed Aircraft, was found guilty of gross negligence and violating state safety laws, and fined $106,250.  Lockheed was also forced to pay $9.3 million in civil judgments.

MWD dedicated a plaque to the 17 workers who were killed in the explosion in December of 2013.  But MWD appears not to have connected the dots with the need to follow the recommended precautions for tunneling through the Rio Vista gas field for the WaterFix project.

Corrected re: Rio Vista gas field 4/30.

Note:  As a result of efforts by California Water Research and coverage by the Sacramento News and Review, MWD has begun working on mapping gas wells in the Delta tunnel alignment.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | March 31, 2018

WaterFix: Sac River bypass flows not determined, exempt from export limits

One of the major issues in the State Water Resources Control Board’s hearing on the WaterFix Change in Point of Diversion is the proposal to exempt the new North Delta diversions from the Board’s export limits for the State Water Project and Central Valley Project. The export limits are part of the State Water Resources Control Board’s 2006 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Table 3 requirements, which set standards to protect fish and wildlife. The 2006 Bay-Delta WQCP export limits basically limit total Delta exports to 35% of total Delta inflow from February to June, and 65% from July to January. (There is an exception for dry Februaries.) The export limits were originally proposed in 1995 by the water users to provide “substantial protection” to fish in the Delta.

The Department of Water Resources and Metropolitan Water District are now proposing that the State Water Resources Control Board exempt the new North Delta diversions from the export limits in the 2006 WQCP. If the North Delta diversions are exempt from the export limits, the Water Board’s only required bypass flows for the Sacramento River will essentially be the minimum Delta outflows, or the minimum to maintain salinity standards in the Delta.

The modeling for the proposed WaterFix operations does not show severe impacts from ending the export limits, and from the Board not requiring any bypass flows in the WaterFix permit. The reason is that the WaterFix modeling assumes very protective bypass criteria that are proposed to be triggered by the presence of outmigrating Winter and Spring Run Chinook salmon. But the National Marine Fisheries Service 2017 Biological Opinion for the WaterFix notes that all of the operational criteria are subject to change, stating,

Some of the criteria identified in the PA may have substantial water supply effects while providing limited ability to minimize effects to species. As a result, operational criteria identified in the CWF PA may be modified, relaxed or removed and may no longer apply to an operation with CWF, while other operational criteria, not currently identified in this CWF consultation or those already identified may be included or modified. Therefore, the operational criteria that are described in the CWF BA and in this Opinion are likely to change between now and when CWF becomes operational. (p. 16, underlining added.)

Chapter 3 of the WaterFix Final EIR/EIS also notes that the operations analyzed in the Final EIR/EIS are only “modeling assumptions,” stating:

While the analysis for Alternative 4A in the resource chapters utilizes H3+ modeling results, actual operations will ultimately depend on the results of the adaptive management program. (p. 3-262.)

Thus the initial operational criteria that are ultimately adopted for the WaterFix may be far less protective than what is analyzed in the Final EIR/EIS and Reclamation’s Biological Assessment.

An even larger long-term issue is what happens if the endangered Winter and/or Spring Run Chinook salmon go extinct because of climate change and/or the new diversions. Would the Water Board then step in and require minimum bypass flows on the Sacramento River to protect unlisted fish, boating, minimum water levels for agricultural diversions, and other beneficial uses in the Delta?

Since this blog post was published on March 20, 2018, the Department of Water Resources and Metropolitan Water District committed to designing the Delta tunnel(s) to withstand a maximum earthquake in the Delta.  However, the new analysis that the Delta tunnel lining will withstand a maximum earthquake assumes that the Delta soils are very stiff to hard and that ground motions attenuate by more than 50% with depth.  The validity of the new analysis will be addressed in a future blog post.

Sacramento — Part 2 of the State Water Resources Control Board’s Hearing on the WaterFix Water Right Change Petition (aka Delta tunnels) has been ongoing since February 22, 2018.  On March 14,15, and 16, 2018, the County of San Joaquin, the San Joaquin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Local Agencies of the North Delta, and the South and Central Delta Water Agencies presented testimony by a geotechnical engineer and the principal engineer for many of the Reclamation Districts in the Delta. The engineers testified on the inadequacy of the preliminary engineering for the Delta tunnels, and the resulting risks to the project, and to people and property in the Delta.

The engineers’ testimony showed that MWD and DWR have been dissembling about the Delta tunnels being a “fix” for a maximum earthquake in the Delta, as analyzed in the 2008 Delta Risk Management Strategy report. The Delta tunnels are not currently being designed to withstand a maximum earthquake in the Delta, as defined by the American Society of Civil Engineers and required by the California Building Code for above ground buildings and structures.  The expert testimony also raised very real concerns that inadequate structural design of the Delta tunnel lining could not only result in the Delta tunnel lining leaking in an earthquake, but actually increase the risks of the levees failing, if the problems with the current Conceptual Design of the Delta tunnels are not addressed.

1Effects of Maximum Considered Earthquake on blind fault in the Delta, according to Delta Risk Management Strategy

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Josef Tootle is the Principal Geotechnical Engineer with ENGEO Incorporated, and has 20 years of experience with projects in the Delta.  Tootle testified that the geotechnical borings done to date for the Delta tunnels are completely inadequate, even for the preliminary engineering. Tootle also testified that failing to have adequate geotechnical exploration could lead to delays in the project, needing to relocate the tunnel alignment, or, if the errors weren’t dealt with in the preliminary design, potential injury to life or property in the Delta if the tunnel lining failed due to seismic or structural stresses.

Josef Tootle’s concern about the impacts of the tunnel lining leaking under critical structures was corroborated by testimony of Chris Neudeck, principal at Kjelsen, Sinnock and Nuedeck. Neudeck is the the District engineer and Local Agency Representative for 26 of the Reclamation Districts in the Delta. Neudeck expressed concern not only for the impacts of tunnel lining leakage on the Delta levees, but also about risks of tunnel boring under the levees. Neudeck testified that the tunneling under the levees would need to be done very carefully and monitored very closely. But MWD and DWR have not set any standards for tunnel boring, deferring determination of allowable settlement and monitoring procedures to future engineering. Neudeck testified that DWR has never discussed risk management while tunneling under the levees with the Reclamation Districts.

Tom Williams, a PhD geologist who has consulted on tunnel and pipeline projects all over the world, raised similar concerns about the feasibility of the Delta tunnel conceptual design, and the risk to levees from the tunnel construction and operation in testimony in Part 1 of the WaterFix hearing.

Why DWR’s proposed mitigation may be meaningless

The “Avoidance and Mitigation Measures” in the WaterFix Final EIS/EIS state that DWR has committed to designing the Delta tunnels according to applicable codes and standards.   Chapter 9 of the WaterFix Final EIR/EIS, on Geology and Seismicity states: Regulatory Design Codes and Standards for Project Structures

State and federal design codes and standards will regulate construction of the many structures that are part of the proposed project. These codes and standards establish minimum design and construction requirements, including design and construction of concrete and steel structures, levees, tunnels, pipelines, canals, buildings, bridges and pumping stations. (p. 31.)

But cross-examination in the WaterFix Hearing showed that above ground building codes don’t necessarily apply to deep underground structures, and DWR’s own adopted standards include no objective criteria. Josef Tootle affirmed the following on cross-examination by California Water Research:

  1. Above ground buildings and structures in California are designed to withstand a “Maximum Considered Earthquake,” without collapsing.   A Maximum Considered Earthquake is defined by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as an earthquake with a probability of 2% in 50 years, or 1 in 2,475 years.
  2. The ASCE standards may not apply to the tunnels.  (DWR’s attorneys previously claimed they do not.)
  3. DWR’s 2015 WaterFix Final Draft Conceptual Engineering Report shows the Delta tunnels are being designed to withstand a 5% in 50 year earthquake (1 in 1,000 years), which has weaker ground shaking than the Maximum Considered Earthquake.
  4. DWR’s 2010 internal, unreleased preliminary engineering report showed that the tunnel lining joints could “de-stress” in a 5% in 50 year earthquake, causing a temporary increase in leakage.

California Water Research asked Mr. Tootle if he was the Geotechnical engineer on a tunnel project, and the preliminary seismic structural analysis showed that tunnel joints could “de-stress” and leak in an earthquake, would he want to see further analysis?   He said yes. (The Delta tunnel Final Draft Conceptual Engineering Report does not disclose any seismic structural analysis, but states that MWD’s and DWR’s engineers are now assuming that seismic forces would fall off by 50% with depth. The assumption was contradicted by seismic data.)

DWR is promising to address the seismic issues with the Delta tunnels in future preliminary design, but is not proposing to release the future preliminary design documents for review by stakeholders. Instead, DWR is proposing to rely on “applicable codes and standards” to ensure that the tunnel lining has an adequate design.

But the standards listed in section include DWR’s Seismic Loading Criteria Report, issued by DWR in 2012.   The standards in DWR’s 2012 Seismic Loading Criteria report are no standards at all.  This is what the Seismic Loading Report has to say about pipelines and tunnels:

Section 3.2.2 Pipelines

Similar to SWP canals, little documentation exists regarding the seismic loading criteria used in the design of existing pipelines including the recently designed pipelines. DWR does not currently use any analytical model to predict the behavior of buried pipelines during earthquake occurrences. This is partly because earthquake loads may not be a concern for pipelines below the ground surface. Furthermore, AWWA manuals do not explicitly include seismic loading criteria for water pipelines. (p. 16.)

[note – Water supply pipelines DO fail in earthquakes.]

Section 3.2.3 Tunnels

The seismic loading criteria that were used in the design of existing SWP tunnels also have not been found. Many references, including the “Seismic Design of Tunnels – A Simple State-of-the-Art Design Approach” monograph (Jaw-Nan Wang and Parson Brinckerhoff, 1993) discuss the seismic loading criteria that could be used for tunnels. (p. 18)

Josef Tootle confirmed that these sections of the SLC report indicate that DWR could not locate seismic design criteria for any of the existing SWP pipelines or tunnels, and that the sections did not appear to set any criteria for the design of pipelines or tunnels. California Water research also cross-examined Josef Tootle about the foreward to DWR’s Seismic Loading Criteria report.  It states:

These guidelines are a suggested starting point, but do not take the place of the design engineer’s judgment and additional information available for a particular project site. Each design engineer should have the knowledge, experience, and insight into the importance of their facility to select the appropriate seismic design load and subsequently to apply that load in an appropriate manner to the structure. Similarly, this report does not prescribe the procedure or process of analyzing the structure. Again, this is design engineer’s responsibility to select the method of analyses that best suit the complexity, criticality, and importance of the facility. (p. 3)

Josef Tootle thought that the Seismic Loading Criteria report should set minimum standards, which it does not.   It is unclear what DWR’s commitment to build the Delta tunnels to “applicable codes and standards” actually means.  Given the failure by DWR set any clear, objective engineering criteria for the Delta tunnels, there a very real risk that cost-cutting by the water contractors who are paying for the project could compromise both long-term performance and public safety.


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