By ANDRE BYIK DN
Red Bluff Daily News
A water policy coordinator from California Water Impact Network lamented the planned diversion tunnels for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta on Thursday, saying the plan would be too costly, environmentally destructive and could potentially lead to less water for the Sacramento Valley.
Tom Stokely, a former planner for the Natural Resources Division of Trinity County and a current director of C-WIN, a nonprofit corporation that advocates for equitable use of state water, spoke pointedly during a water forum at the Red Bluff Community and Senior Center.
It’s crazy for us to spend our money on a stupid project like the tunnels when we need to fix our existing infrastructure, Stokely said.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan includes the planned water diversion tunnels and is meant to secure the Delta, which delivers water to 25 million Californians, according to the plan’s website. The plan is estimated to cost about $25 billion, which includes conservation and restoration projects. It would be implemented over a 50-year period.
Referring to a study done at the University of the Pacific, Stokely said for every $2.50 spent on the plan there would be $1 in benefits.
An economic study of the costs and benefits of the plan released by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration in August claims California residents would receive a net benefit of $4.8 billion to $5.4 billion over the 50-year implementation of the plan.
The analysis found 177,000 construction and habitat restoration jobs would be created, leading to $11 billion in employee compensation. The plan would increase statewide economic activity by $84 billion, and there would be increased recreation in the Delta, such as hiking and boating.
But the reality is if there are any cost overruns at all, the project will not be cost effective, Stokely said. Cost overruns are common. Let’s look at the Bay Bridge.
Stokely, speaking to a well attended conference room, dismissed the plan’s stated environmental benefits.
He said the Delta is a bottleneck for moving water from north to south, and the plan would take more water from the Shasta, Trinity and Oroville reservoirs.
Essentially what the tunnels are is a plan to get a 50-year permit to pump and be able to move the water without worrying about having to cut back on that pumping, Stokely said. So anything that removes that bottleneck in the Delta basically allows them to drain the Northern reservoirs and fill the reservoirs south of the Delta.
Stokely added that while the plan claims to help the Delta by cleaning it up, the plan would remove a significant portion of fresh water from the Delta before it gets there.They claim they’re going to save the Delta, but they’re actually going to deprive it of the fresh water, he said. And by depriving it of the fresh water it becomes stagnant, and a much larger percentage of the amount of water in the Delta will come from the San Joaquin River, which in the summertime is largely agricultural and municipal runoff.
It’s highly polluted.
The effects to the Sacramento Valley, Stokely said, could include potential depletion of ground water, less water in Shasta, Trinity and Oroville lakes for recreation, hydropower and salmon, and loss of public services from state water bond debt.
Stokely did offer alternatives to the plan, including enforcing existing water quality rules, improving the Delta’s levees and maintaining reservoir cold water pools.
He added that recycling and conserving water, and asking local officials to oppose the plan are all things Californians can accomplish.
The forum, sponsored by the Tehama County Democratic Central Committee, featured speakers who were mostly in agreement with Stokely’s assessment of the twin tunnels plan.
Susan Price, who has been involved in county and city politics for years, including stints as a Corning councilwoman and Red Bluff city manager, said the North State’s economy is intertwined with water.
Price said the plan would divert money from other projects that could benefit infrastructure projects that attract businesses to the area.
Andre Byik can be reached at 527-2151, ext. 111 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.