KNIGHTSEN -- As the state prepares to unveil key environmental documents for Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to build two large tunnels to move Sacramento River water south, dozens of concerned East Contra Costans were brought up to speed last week on how it could impact their Delta backyard.
The governor's $24.7 billion plan is widely opposed around the Delta communities, as opponents say the tunnels would reduce fresh water flows, endanger local fish and other habitat and put a sizable financial dent in local agriculture.
Most, if not all, of the 60 residents at Thursday's forum hosted by the Contra Costa Farm Bureau and Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, echoed those sentiments.
According to the state, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan meets a pair of long-term goals: enhancing the Delta's long-term ecological health, and improving water supply reliability for 25 million Californians and San Joaquin Valley farms.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Stockton-based Restore the Delta, disputes the water claim, saying that while quality improves for those south of the pumps, analysis shows a 51 percent decrease for Contra Costans.
County Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho of Discovery Bay said the tunnels plan lacks significant scientific studies, and that smaller-scale development alternatives are not being considered.
"(The state) is reverse-engineering it," Piepho said. "They're talking about the project first and what the exporters need from a quantity perspective, and maybe they're going to shoehorn the science and ecology in to make it fit."
Also, Delta counties do not have a role in the plan's decision-making process, Piepho said.
"They are taking too much (water), it's in the wrong location and there's no local control over it," she said. Dr. Jeffery Michael, an economist at University of the Pacific, said the plan is bad for the state as a whole and questions who would benefit.
"It's in the interest of a couple of narrow water agencies, and not necessarily the ratepayers of those agencies. It's in the interest of those that are running them," said Michael, who has been working for years on cost analyses of the state plan.
The state's plan assumes that Los Angeles is growing faster than it is, that the tunnels will open on time and there will be no extra costs, he said. Michael urged those in the farm bureau to show the math, which he says doesn't pencil out, to other group members around the state.
Barrigan-Parrilla said there is anti-tunnel momentum growing across California and urged those in attendance to read the documents, comment and stay engaged. Voters are leery of paying for a bond for the tunnels, while more people in Southern California are becoming aware of the repercussions, she said.
"When people hear that 'I'm going to get this by destroying your community,' they shake their heads and walk away. They don't want to do that," Barrigan-Parrilla said.
Knightsen resident Cecilia Tamayo-Canzani said she's concerned about the potential for her pumped water to become saltier and that the pounding from tunnel work miles away could "take a toll on her home's foundation."
"It's making me really worried," she said.
Others raised concerns that levees could be in jeopardy since they live in a flood zone and wondered how they could afford skyrocketing water rates to help cover project costs.
Public comments will be accepted for 120 days after the Dec. 13 release of the environmental documents. The Water Resources Department is planning formal meetings throughout the state to get feedback. Officials emphasize that no decision has been made by state and federal agencies about moving forward with the project.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.