Residents Wary Over Delta Tunnels Effect On Waterways, Livelihoods

(KPIX 5) — The state’s plan to take water from the Sacramento River north of the Delta and tunnel it down to pumping stations in the south has people who live in the area up in arms. Many believe the fix is in to send more water to San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California.

“It’s a water grab,” said Tim Neuharth, a Delta pear farmer on the Sacramento River and owner of a private beach resort at a spot called Steamboat Landing. “They want to take this water south and take it out of here and it doesn’t really matter what happens to the Delta. They just want this water.”

Neuharth said if they place intake pipes above his property and begin siphoning off water at 9,000 cubic feet per second, he and his neighbors are doomed.

“Without that flow pushing back against the salt water we’ll have a massive amount of salt water intrusion here into the Delta which will ruin it basically forever,” said Neuharth. “It will never go back.”

Those arguing about this in Sacramento see the water as a resource. But for the small towns near the Delta, the water is a way of life.

Doug Butts’ family has lived in the tiny town of Hood in Sacramento County since 1930. Hood is where the state plans to locate one of the intake pipes for the massive 40-foot diameter water tunnels. No one here seems to think it’s a good idea.

“The water would go down so low in the Delta out here,” Butts said, “There’d be no more boating and not very many fish coming up here…”

Most who live in the small Delta towns don’t attend meetings in Sacramento. They just hear things – like how the rivers might be turned into saltwater marshes. And they’re scared, no matter how much the state tries to reassure them that water quality will be protected.

“Those water quality standards have to be met, no matter what,” said Nancy Vogel, spokesperson for the California Natural Resources Agency. “And if that means the intakes don’t get used, that means the intakes don’t get used.”

But farmer Neuharth doubts that will happen. “It’s going to get done and then you’re not agoing to use it?” said Neuharth. “There’s no way. That doesn’t make any sense.”

The state says taking water from the Delta – before it ever gets into the Delta – will make the water supply safer and improve fish habitats downstream. But residents see that as a crazy contradiction. And they’re not very encouraged when they hear statements like this coming from the agency’s spokesperson:

“One of the things we’ve learned over the last 30 years is we’ve got a lot to learn,” said Vogel. “And it’s become very clear to everyone that we have to embrace the uncertainty of the Delta. We don’t know exactly how species are going to respond.”

That may not inspire much confidence in the people living in the Delta, but the state says if the permit process continues without interruption, construction could begin next year and is expected to take 10 years to complete.

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