GSSA Gets Legal Win – Superior Court Shuts Down Delta Tunnel Until DWR Complies With Law

In response to GSSA’s argument that geotechnical work for the Delta Tunnel would harm salmon, other fish species and fishermen, the Sacramento County Superior Court issued an injunction on June 21 that effectively shut down the project until the Department of Water Resources (DWR) complies with the law and the Court’s order. 

In May, GSSA joined Restore the Delta, California Indian Environmental Alliance, San Francisco Baykeeper, and Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians in filing a motion to stop DWR from performing invasive investigatory geological work the agency deemed necessary before building the Delta Tunnel. The court found that the proposed geotechnical work was unlawful at this stage. Under the Delta Reform Act of 2009, enacted to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the tunnel must be approved by the Delta Stewardship Council before project implementation can begin. Performing the geotechnical work—extensive trenching, boring, and excavating massive test pits—is the start of implementing the project, therefore requiring approvals the DWR has not yet sought or obtained.

Attorneys for the coalition argued that the tunnel would further decimate ecosystems that are already in crisis, as well as harm the communities that depend on the Bay, the Delta, and their tributary rivers. The tunnel would also degrade the Bay’s water quality, and put irreplaceable Tribal cultural and archaeological assets at risk of destruction. In addition, the attorneys argued that the state—in its rush to build the tunnel—was shutting the public out of the decision-making process, especially those people who live along the Delta and are invested in the waterway’s health.

GSSA argued that by creating many boreholes, some of which will be over hundreds of feet deep, the dredging of several massive trenches, and multiple vibration tests would stir up the sediment at the bottom of the Delta and thereby expose salmon and other species to pollutants that have settled on the Delta floor. Once those pollutants are absorbed by fish and bioaccumulate in the fish species caught by fishermen and women, our fishing community would be harmed.

Additionally, increased sediment in the Delta waters may hurt rearing and migration of juvenile salmon and expose fish populations, including juvenile salmon, to increased pollutant loads that will exacerbate already depressed salmon populations that have forced the closure of salmon seasons in 2023 and 2024.

“The fixation on the Delta Tunnel paints a damning picture of the state’s commitment to environmental stewardship, fisheries restoration, and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on healthy salmon populations,” said Scott Artis, executive director of GSSA. “The Department of Water Resources attempting to rush through the project’s geotechnical work before getting legally required approvals not only fast-tracks disruptions to our fisheries but also erodes public trust. It’s time to prioritize the needs of California’s people and ecosystems over corporate interests and shortsighted, fish-killing projects.”

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Doc Searls