[env-trinity] SF Chronicle Editorial: Gov. Jerry Brown's delta fix is not much of a plan
tstokely at att.net
Mon Jul 9 08:58:13 PDT 2012
Gov. Jerry Brown's delta fix is not much of a plan
Published 06:01 p.m., Sunday, July 8, 2012
Fish versus farms is the common shorthand Californians use to discuss how we decide to use our most valuable natural resource: water. Today, the debate is over fish versus financing of a "conveyance," as Sacramento describes a peripheral canal to "fix" the delta.
The questions: Is a conveyance fish agencies will permit one that the water contractors will pay for?
What if the contractors can't pay? The answers so far suggest this project is but a pipe dream.
Sacramento has signaled that Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Roger Salazar will announce a plan on or about July 25 for a $14 billion tunnel to move Sacramento River water 35 miles around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to the Tracy pumps.
Size matters: The tunnel will have three intakes, each capable of sucking in 3,000 cubic feet of water per second, or 9,000 cubic feet total. Alternatively, it would have five intakes and move 15,000 cubic feet of water. The discussion however, is around how much water would be exported: 4.3 million acre-feet per year (less than is diverted now) or 5.5 million acre-feet?
What is the demand? The water contractors, who sell to both cities and agriculture, want "reliable" water deliveries and have agreed to pay the lion's share of the tunnel construction, operations and maintenance costs. In exchange, they want certainty that they won't be required to give up water at some later date for the delta fish. Can the state give that assurance? Do the tunnel costs pencil out for the water users without that assurance? Could the state require other water rights holders - say San Francisco or the East Bay Municipal Utility District - to contribute water for the fish instead?
Environmental groups, concerned about the degraded water quality and declining salmon fisheries, could support construction of a tunnel because it would address the reversed river flows caused by pumping that misdirects, and ultimately kills, fish. But they want to know first how it will be operated. They are opposed to the plumbing-then-policy proposal in play now.
The cost of habitat restoration, which the environmental groups insist on in exchange for their support, would be covered in part by state borrowing. Yet, last week, the Legislature moved the water bond measure off the November ballot.
The Metropolitan Water District, which buys half of the state water project's deliveries, anticipates raising water rates by 15 to 20 percent to cover its share of the costs.
But its customers, reeling from earlier rate increases, are buying less water. They have actively promoted conservation and are exploring desalinization as imported water becomes more expensive. Will Met be able to sell bonds to finance its share of a tunnel? If it sells the bonds, will it be able to repay them? Who pays if Met doesn't?
Questions abound. Until there are answers, the delta "fix" is less than a plausible plan.
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