November 16, 2014 12:23 AM
We — or rather our representatives on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors — are on the cusp of a major decision, one that will determine both our future solvency and our water security. The issue: a proposal by the Brown administration to prematurely extend State Water Project contracts. The response of our supervisors should be unequivocal: no.
The Brown administration is assuring local water districts that these extensions are in their best interests, that they will provide long-term water delivery stability to south state ratepayers. Nothing could be further from the truth. This move isn’t about helping rank-and-file ratepayers. It’s about currying favor with powerful San Joaquin Valley corporate agricultural interests. Further, it’s a covert funding mechanism for a ruinously expensive water conveyance project that will burden citizens with billions in new debt while providing no new water.
And it’s not just the substance of this plan that’s objectionable, it’s the style. The administration is once again demonstrating its proclivity for ham-handed intimidation by threatening local water districts with the loss of their State Water Project allocations, conveyance capacity and water conveyance rights if they don’t support the plan.
There is absolutely no need to extend our current contracts; they will not expire until 2038. So why the rush? Early contract extensions will strengthen the grip of corporate contractors over our public water, allowing them to maintain the existing inequitable water distribution system to 2085.
In other words, the beneficiaries are the gigantic corporate farms of the San Joaquin Valley and speculators invested heavily in the water market. Rank-and-file ratepayers will shoulder most of the fiscal burden, and will realize zero benefits. Indeed, these extensions are equivalent to homeowners being told in the 20th year of their 30-year mortgages that they will be required to add an additional 30 years of ongoing payments or face the loss of their homes.
Moreover, the contract extensions are being used as a stalking horse for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), the Brown administration scheme to construct two massive water conveyance tunnels through the heart of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta to the south state. This boondoggle will cost $67 billion or more. Santa Barbara’s share of the debt that will accrue from the Twin Tunnels will be tacked on to the $1.76 billion we’re paying off for the construction of the Coastal Branch, the canal that was built in the 1990s to connect us to the State Water Project. Think your water bills are high now? If the Twin Tunnels are built, you’ll look back nostalgically to 2014.
The Twin Tunnels will deliver no extra water; they will only be able to move water, not create it. They cannot bolster snowpack in the Sierra, Trinity and Cascade mountains, the source of California’s developed water. However, they will expedite deliveries of any water that is available to corporate farms in the San Joaquin Valley. Further, agribusiness will pay significantly less for water delivered via the Twin Tunnels than rank-and-file urban ratepayers.
The contract extensions are thus a multibillion-dollar open line of credit for the state and its corporate allies, with no real accountability for how the money is spent. Clearly, this plan is not in the interests of Santa Barbara County residents. It is a cynical attempt by the Brown administration to reward its friends in corporate agriculture by allowing them to plunder our most valuable public resource — water. And to make matters worse, the administration is intent on making us pay for the privilege of being robbed.
The supervisors of Santa Barbara County must not allow themselves to be bullied or buffaloed. We urge them to stand firm, to ignore both the threats and blandishments of state power brokers and their corporate cronies, and put the interests of their constituents first.
They must, in short, reject the proposed State Water Project contract extensions.