Contra Cost Time editorial: Stop the Delta Tunnel Water Madness
East Bay residents have a vested interest in the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s decision on whether to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17 billion plan to build two tunnels under the Delta.
The governor’s top lieutenants came to San Jose for a formal presentation to the water board Tuesday to make their case — knowing that the board had just fired CEO Beau Goldie, who was a cheerleader for the tunnels from the start. The district already has contributed nearly $14 million toward studies, and Goldie had expected ratepayers to provide at least $500 million more.
Fortunately, opponents of the plan gave the board an earful as well, and members seemed to be listening.
We hope they’ll refuse to spend another dime on the scheme to move water from Northern California to Southern California.
The Bay Area does not want to further damage the largest estuary west of the Mississippi so that Central Valley farmers and Los Angeles residents can get more water. And the Santa Clara Valley board might actually be able to stop this water grab. The agency’s participation so far has allowed the governor to claim support from both Northern and Southern California. Without Santa Clara, the project is a much harder sell.
Most of the $250 million in project costs so far has come from the Metropolitan Water District, Kern County Water District of Southern California and Westlands Water District in Fresno. The state needs another $1.2 billion soon to fund engineering and design studies, and it needs assurance that enough water districts will participate to pay the $17 billion tab.
Or more. Way more, most likely, for 35 miles of 40-foot-wide tunnels, knowing how costs have multiplied for most if not all major tunnel projects.
Of the seven Santa Clara Valley Water District board members, five — Chairwoman Barbara Keegan, Vice Chairman John Varela, Gary Kremen, Linda LeZotte and Richard Santos — voiced skepticism Tuesday when Brown’s team made its case. That is a hopeful sign, even though the other two, Nai Hsueh and Tony Estremera, voiced support.
Every serious scientific study of the Delta shows that its health is deteriorating because too much water already is being drained away. State biologists reported this spring that the Delta smelt, the canary in the coal mine for the Delta, is almost extinct. Salmon runs were pathetic this year.
The best way for California to meet its water needs is to focus on conservation, recycling and reuse. Agriculture uses about 75 percent of the state’s water supply, but only 40 percent of farmers use drip irrigation.
The state has wasted six critical years wrestling with the tunnels when it could have been advancing sensible strategies. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, with Goldie’s leadership, has enabled that waste.
The water board now should put a stop to it.