Second try at killing ‘a zombie’ – Rep. Josh Harder swings the axe again, trying to bring down the Delta Tunnel in Congress

Saint Joseph's Church along the Sacramento River at sunset. Photograph by Scott Thomas Anderson

By Dan Bacher

Last Thursday, Democratic representative Josh Harder reintroduced his Stop the Delta Tunnels Act, a bill that would prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from issuing a federal permit necessary for the State of California to build the Delta Conveyance Project.  

The proposed 45-mile-long tunnel, currently being pushed by the Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration, would divert water from the Sacramento River before it reaches the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary and then ship it south to corporate agricultural growers and Southern California water agencies.

Harder posted a video before reintroducing the bill, explaining his reasons for sponsoring the legislation.

“The Delta Tunnel would be a disaster for our community, a $16 billion dollar boondoggle that would poison our farms, ship our water down to Los Angeles and Beverly Hills and not do a single thing to help our community,” he argued. “We’re doing everything we can to fix it.”

Harder went on, “Right here, I have a dead simple bill, the Stop Delta Tunnels Act, and that’s exactly what it does: It’s only one-page long and what it does is ban the Delta Tunnels once and for all.”

Representatives John Garamendi (D–Walnut Grove), Mike Thompson (D–St. Helena), and Mark DeSaulnier (D–Concord) are all co-sponsoring the bill.

In previous statements, Harder has described the tunnel as a “zombie project,’ noting that “every time we kill it, the governor brings it back.” 

“This is a choice between watering a family farm right here in the Valley, and watering someone’s manicured green lawn down south,” Harder has charged. “I’ll do what’s right for the Valley every single time.”

Critics and independent scientists say the tunnel would have a devastating impact on family farms in San Joaquin, Sacramento and other Delta counties, as well as on imperiled fish populations and the ecology of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. Strong arguments have been made that the project, by diverting more water out of the Delta, would hasten the extinction of Delta smelt, longfin smelt, the Sacramento River winter-run and spring run Chinook salmon, the Central Valley steelhead, the green sturgeon and other fish species. The project is strongly opposed by virtually every environmental group in the state.       

So far, most battles to stop the tunnel have happened inside state chambers or California courtrooms, with reginal governments, major conservation groups and numerous indigenous tribes squaring off against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, then Governor Jerry Brown, and now Governor Newsom. Harder’s proposed bill takes a different approach towards banning the project – a federal approach. Specifically, his bill’s text states, “The Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, may not issue a permit under section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C.  2 1344) relating to the Delta Conveyance Project referred to in the document published by the California Department of Water Resources.”

In September, when the bill was first introduced during the last congressional session, some media analysts called Harder’s bill the strongest step yet to stop Newsom’s tunnel from gaining momentum.

“The Delta Tunnel doesn’t modernize anything,” Harder told KRCA at the time. “All it does is build a giant tunnel to take the water that our community depends on and sends it down to Los Angeles. I don’t call that modernization, I call that theft.” 

But Harder’s first effort at the bill did not move forward. A broad coalition is hoping is newest version does.

“This project will cost upwards of $16 billion to continue ecologically harmful and unsustainable water exports instead of promoting investments in local and regional water resiliency,” noted Erin Woolley, Policy Advocate for Sierra Club California.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers recently extended the public comment period for the draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for the Delta Conveyance project from the original February 14, 2023 end date to March 16, 2023. The document was released for public review and comment on December 16, 2022. This is a separate process from the California Department of Water Resources’ Draft EIR public review and comment period that is now closed.

The public can submit written comments tothe Army Corps Regulatory Division website at: Delta Conveyance (

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