A combative Gov. Jerry Brown has announced his plan to dig two huge tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta – comparable to the “Chunnel” between England and France – at the estimated cost of more than $15 billion. The stated purpose is to provide water “reliability” for Southern California users; “reliability,” in this case, is code for more water. The delta cannot be saved and its ecological crisis cannot be addressed by taking out more water.
Here are just a few reasons why the governor’s plan is an enormous mistake:
It’s a bad investment: The cost of increasing exports is more than twice the value of the benefits from the additional water, according to a University of the Pacific economic study.
It’s not affordable: This plan would increase water rates for Southern Californians, who would not get any increase in water but would subsidize San Joaquin farmers, who would get more water.
It’s not necessary: Alternative plans have been put forward that would reduce water exports from the bay-delta estuary, in keeping with the state requirement to reduce reliance on delta water. Those plans would avoid the need for more plumbing to export more water.
Better solutions: Part of the justification for the paired tunnels is to protect water delivery systems from the effects of earthquakes, rising sea level and flooding; yet a state agency has proposed reinforcing the delta levees to accomplish those same goals at the cost of $2 billion to $4 billion – vastly cheaper than the $15 billion tunnels.
Continued degradation: A major reason for the endangerment of fish species and degradation of delta habitat is that not enough water runs through the delta to sustain them. Scientists have pointed out the need to reduce exports below what the water agencies want in order to allow fish and habitat to recover.
Water oversubscribed: The real crisis for the delta is that state and federal agencies have committed to deliver five times more water than is available; these unrealistic commitments need to be revised.
Californians need to seriously question this version of the discredited 1982 Peripheral Canal, now. Otherwise, we will be complicit in an enormous and expensive mistake that will haunt California’s economic and ecological future for years to come and not address the real delta crisis.