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The BDCP Continues to Wander in Wonderland


February 10, 2010 -- At the February 4 meeting of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan steering committee, everyone finally got a look at some details about conveyance alternatives.
Mike Cherry, a member of the Delta Habitat Conservation and Conveyance Program (DHCCP) team, gave a PowerPoint presentation on Conveyance Options Comparisons which analyzed and compared impacts/cost of construction of three alternatives: eastern, western, or underground. All three projects have an estimated project construction time of 6.25 years, not including litigation, permitting, or logistical delays.  These kinds of delays appear to be more likely with the tunnel option because no one has ever built anything like this before.
Conveyance Land Costs estimates:
Western Alignment: 17,847 acres at $9,500 per acre - about  $169.5 million
Eastern Alignment: 17,851 acres at $10,500 per acre - about $186.4 million 
Tunnel: 6,285 acres at $8,200 per acre - about $51.5 million
Mitigations costs are estimated to be lowest for a tunnel.  Rough mitigation cost estimates are $241 million for a Western Alignment, $247 million for an Eastern Alignment, and $87 million for a Tunnel.
Land costs are lower for a tunnel, but the tunnel would require new energy sources (transmission lines not included in estimates) and a 750 acre forebay somewhere in the Pearson district.  A major unknown: "pump procurement." Engineers don't know if they can actually get the pumps they're using in their design, how long it would take to build them, or what the pumps would cost.
Although a tunnel will have less impact on the surface land, including levee maintenance and improvement, it will require 40-plus miles of subterranean easements that were not included in project cost projections because no one knows what such easements would cost. Also, a tunnel will require five 105-foot above-the-ground surge shafts or relief valves to release pressure and prevent tunnel collapse. 
And the risk analysis showed that the tunnel presents the highest degree of difficulty for repair should there be a catastrophic event.
Based on bypass flow numbers currently being plugged into the models, any one of the facilities is expected to be able to move about 3.6 million acre feet (MAF) in an average year, about 2.3 MAF in a dry year, and about 5.7 MAF in a wet year.
In spite of (actually because of) all the unknown variables and costs, the tunnel option seems to appeal most to contractors like Bechtel.  A tunnel requires less mitigation and offers the greatest potential for cost overruns.  
No one, including Friant Water Users (which is helping to pay for the process) feels like they have enough solid information or a clear enough description of the proposed final project to comment on the EIR.  Also there are fissures in the group: Westlands Water District's Jason Peltier complained about the lack of unity exhibited by EBMUD's public criticisms of the BDCP.  Everyone knows that, as Peltier pointed out, "We can't live in the world we're in."  As always, the question is why anyone would want to put any more effort into a creating a world that can only be sustained by moving vast amounts of water around.