The Westlands Water District hosted a special meeting/workshop on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at Harris Ranch Hotel near Coalinga. Board President Don Peracchi called the meeting at 9:00am. There wasn’t any time wasted. Right out the gate the project’s Program Director hired by DWR, Chuck Gardner spoke about the physical structure of the twin tunnel project also known as the California Water Fix. There are two sections; the North Tunnels at 13.5 miles and the Main Tunnel at 30 miles or so length. They begin in the north near Sacramento and end at the Clifton Court Forebay. The North section will be gravity flow and the south will be pressurized.
How to Build a Tunnel
The tunnels will be created by a massive boring machine that will dig out a 45 feet in diameter tunnel. The face of the machine will be pressurized to keep groundwater out and the tunnel walls will be lined and secured. The geotechnical work is far from ready but there are some assumptions or perhaps estimates: 700,000 tunnel segments, 23 million cubic yards of excavated material, 10 to 12 boring machines going at all times, 195 megawatts of power will be required. Gardner said this will require new electric power line infrastructure. Since the soil in the Delta is mushy peat most of the machinery will be transported by barge. The material removed will be stockpiled and is expected to be used later. Of course if a shaft leading to the tunnel were to flood that would be Bad news with a capital B. He said the levees by the access shafts will be reinforced.
There are a total of 1,500 linier feet of fish screen that is supposed to prevent even smelt or salmon entrainment. The river flow will help move the fish and debris along and that is a better method than the bathtub drain currently at Clifton Court. Gardner said during a wet year there could actually be gravity flow clear to Clifton Court. But in any event a new pump will move the water from there to the California Aqueduct.
The cost is estimated at $14.94 billion with the biggest cost being more than $10 billion for construction. I found it interesting that much money and time can be saved by a new method to change cutter heads. In the old days, a team of divers had to go in front of the bore and change the heads. Since it was pressurized they required decompression chambers. Now the heads can be changed from the inside. The framework of the machines has been beefed up. It was found in the past to have more torque than tough. Gardner said pushing the machines full time has also been reconsidered because the cost and time needed to fix anything broken. He said a main bearing costs more than $1 million and would have to be manufactured overseas and shipped to California. Really? We don’t have the necessary ingredients in the United States to make a giant main bearing? That ought to be a wakeup call right there.
Gardner went through the organization structure. He said the various tasked that must be completed to make the project successful have been identified and assigned a human to be accountable. In addition there will be an ongoing audit of not just financials but productivity to give real time feedback so problems can be addressed as soon as possible. There will be a full-time risk assessment staff and you know that will be a fun office to work in provided you don’t run with scissors and know which end of the pencil is supposed to face up in the front shirt pocket.
Next Gardner gave a brief review of other tunnel projects but these projects are unique. There isn’t at this time any other tunnel similar enough to the proposed twin tunnels for comparisons. At least the data hasn’t be compiled to provide this. However, there is enough experience to glean some lessons from the big bore tunnel projects from around the globe. He presented a dozen points and they made sense to me. But, it was through this the lowest portion of the slide was the mention of High Speed Rail and the lessons learned from it in securing right of way and property acquisition. Gardner acknowledged as much. But there were lessons learned. The tunnel right of way is in 3-D. There are subterranean mineral rights and other unique considerations. There was much more but it was time for questions and answers.
Director Todd Neves asked Gardner something I was wondering. He asked who Gardner works for. I believe the name of the small consulting firm Gardner owns is called Hallmark Consulting. A grower asked, “Why not build one tunnel at a time?” Gardner responded at this time it isn’t technologically feasible to build a big enough tunnel to move 9,000 cfs so two tunnels will be needed. There are significant savings in the economy of scale by sharing much of the none construction work simultaneously. Another good question was how will the project protect itself from legal action. What is the plan? Gardner said he expects this to wind up in the California Supreme Court. The EIR runs more than 100,000 pages in an effort to bullet proof the project. He said the Sac Bee ran a story stating there is 50 or so lawsuits currently filed. I think the deadline for filing under CEQA has closed. He had no idea how long this may take to resolve. He was also asked if the wind changes in 10 years and the project is abandoned will there be any provisions for those participating financially to recoup their investment and I wasn’t sure of that answer. But I doubt the money is coming back to the Valley from what I could determine.
I have heard time and again allowing DWR to be in charge of the construction is a deal killer. God bless ‘em they’re not known for completely any projects on time and on budget. However, the state law requires DWR to be in charge over all. So, all the water contractors who invest will form a JPA and the JPA will be in charge of the day to day. That will have to be enough to address the cost over run fears. I asked how much will the lawsuits costs and Gardner, I think wisely, said he’d just as soon not state a figure but there are funds set aside. At about 10:30am we took a break.
Next Gardner spoke about what this will costs. He said it’s obvious but having an accurate budget and accurate estimate must be developed. He said two common traps are under estimating to meet what the participants are perceived to be able to afford or creative estimations that gets a lower cost to get things started. 5RMK is the firm hired to produce the estimate. They have international experience in construction and estimation. They did not do any financing estimates. A list of the criteria and inputs considered was too lengthy for me to type. However, this was a power point demo so it might be available elsewhere. The construction subtotal was $9.5 billion with a $3.38 billion contingency fund with the remaining amount totaling $14.94 billion. Gardner said the estimates are conservative. Director William Bourdeau said the construction cost isn’t the hang up – it’s the yield and the cost of water to pay for the construction. That is the question alright. The size of the project’s cubic feet per second capacity has been decreased since it was first proposed; therefore the yield was decreased as well. While I was trying to write this the talk turned to how long this will take. I think it will take 11-years to dig the 30 miles or 60 miles when both tunnels are taken into account. At 30-feet per day per boring machine . . . Let’s see how many feet per mile? Google says 5,280. So 5,280 ft. x 60= 316,800 ft. of tunnel must be dug.
Westlands has a lady named Shelley Ostrowski who had a lot to say about the federal fishery folks and regulation. She said WWD could choose to participate on a percentage basis. Ostrowski also said the State Board’s decision (I think on the point of diversion) next year is also past the deadline to opt in. Neves said his figures indicate participation could put $1,100 per acre on the entire district to service the debt. One grower was concerned about this cost being placed as a land assessment or a water fee and whether or not any water is delivered the farmers will still pay for this. That sounds a lot like the State Water Project. SWP growers in Kern County pay for water every year whether or not they get any.
Gardner said Aldea Services LLC and a man named Bob Goodfellow, a world expert on tunnel risk, performed the risk analysis. A lot of folks including WWD staff got together and tried to come up with every problem that could occur. Once these are identified a probability rating was assigned. As mitigating solutions were considered the probabilities were reduced. Gardner said delay costs $114 million per year so the biggest risks were listed and accounted for. But that wasn’t enough so the base cost was established then the risk cost was added and then the unmitigated risk was added and that total was arrived at. Finally this figure was run through a 75 percent confidence profile. I got a bit lost on this part but I think comparing what similar risks have taken place elsewhere was how the 75 percent confidence was determined. And that boys and girls was how the almost $15 billion cost was figured. I think. Gardner said this was all figured at 9,000 cfs. Grower John Harris said he has a sense most of the farmers are not going to be able to afford the cost. Which raises the question; what if there aren’t enough folks willing to invest to get enough money to build a 9,000 cfs tunnel? Gardner said that hasn’t been a big talking point so far.
A grower in the audience asked if there is capacity in the tunnel who has the ability to get water through the tunnel. The French have a word for it, “bypass.” As in bypass flows. If the Sacramento River flows are too low there won’t be water flowing through the tunnels. We next watched some videos. The first one was fun; Tonka Toys building the three intakes. The next one showed constructing the tunnels. New roads through the Delta islands are needed to support the weight of the construction equipment such as semi-trucks and earth moving gear. A pad will be built up at the shaft site in case the levee ever failed the job won’t flood. At this point one of the growers asked if the easement would extend to the surface. Gardner said that hasn’t been fully vetted but certainly there would have to be some mechanism to prevent drilling wells over the top of the tunnels.
Trigger warning: the following was complicated and I urge any reader to dig further certainly before making any financial decisions based on this report.* Ostrowski gave a presentation about Westlands participation. The deadline is the September board meeting. She said the levels of participation for federal CVP range from 20 percent of the cost for 20 percent of capacity interest for $3.14 billion. At 30 percent, the cost is $4.71 billion and at 45 percent at $7.07 billion. Now, I’m sure I heard this – the above figures are WWD’s costs. It was asked what Friant’s position is and that has not be determined yet. See if this confuses you – the feds are not going to participate. But Friant, a CVP contractor can participate for the Exchange Contractors and the US Bureau of Reclamation can participate for the wildlife refuges.
One grower said he believes any water that comes through the tunnels needs to be parked in Westlands. If it ends up in San Luis Reservoir it could be spilled. Ostrowski said in the past ten years SLR only spilled three times. Boudreau rhetorically asked how many times SLR should have been filled.
Once it is determined who will participate there must be a Master Agreement between DWR and CVP participants. This is necessary to set the CVP contractors’ participation and ability to access State Water Project facilities; at least in a limited way. Then a Construction JPA has to be formed so both state and federal contractors can take the reins on construction oversight. Then, a DWR-JPA agreement has to be signed so the JPA can legally take the reins from the state with DWR oversight. Understand? Next there is a Gap Funding agreement between DWR, CVP participants and the USBR to coordinate operations under the CWF. From there an Agreement on Implementation of the Biops to define DWR and the Bureau’s roles, obligations and responsibilities created by the CWF biops.
There were other discussions such as how to measure what the supplies would or wouldn’t have been with or without the tunnels. And there were a lot of other things said by folks with a great deal more knowledge on the subject than myself. We’ll let that marinate. The meeting was then adjourned at 12:25pm with no closed session – which of course wouldn’t have been appropriate and wasn’t agenized but is still refreshing.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 by Don A. Wright No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of DAW. *Actually, if you’re making financial decisions based on these reports you probably need a better financial advisor.
Westlands Water District
3130 N. Fresno Street, Fresno CA 93703 Phone:559/224-1523
Board: Don Peracchi-President, Dan Errotabere – Vice President, Jim Anderson, William Bourdeau, Frank Coelho Jr., Larry Enos, Gary Esajian, Todd Neves & Sarah Woolf with two o’s.
Staff: Tom Birmingham-General Manager, Phil Williams-Attorney, Dan Pope-COO
About: Without irrigation, farming in the Westlands area of California would be limited and ineffectual. The history of Westlands is one of continual adaptation, careful water stewardship and advanced technology. By maintaining a fierce commitment to sustainability, the Westlands’ comprehensive water supply system continues to adapt, educate, and surpass conservation goals. Throughout its history, Westlands Water District has demonstrated a lasting dedication to water conservation and recognized that the long-term survival of its farms depends on the effective management of California’s precious water resources. From www.wwd.ca.gov