[env-trinity] San Diego UT Op-ed- Carolee Krieger:Flawed water proposal will drain public dollars

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Thu Mar 21 09:50:46 PDT 2013

Flawed water proposal will drain public dollars

By Carolee Krieger 5 p.m.March 20, 2013
Gov. Jerry Brown and his allies want to construct a massive $15 billion “conveyance system” to shunt water around the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta to San Joaquin Valley megafarms and south state cities. This, avers the governor, is the most cost-effective and environmentally sound way to assure reliable water supplies for Southern California.

Unhappily, this reasoning is deeply flawed. The twin tunnels won’t provide affordable water deliveries to the southern cities, nor will it protect the delta. On the contrary: This boondoggle will drain billions of public dollars away from schools, first responders and essential infrastructure. It will burden south state consumers with ruinously high water rates and turn the largest, most productive estuary on the West Coast of the continental United States into a brackish sewer. Here are the facts:

We cannot afford it. The most compelling argument against the twin tunnels is the cost. Water rates for south state urban users will increase dramatically, but water supplies will not be enhanced by a single drop. The putative $15 billion price tag is nothing more than a starting point. Cost overruns are a given for any infrastructure project of this scope. Santa Barbara’s Coastal Aqueduct is a good example: it was initially pegged at $270 million, and ended up soaking ratepayers for $1.76 billion.

It is not equitable. As noted, the project will not increase supplies to south state cities – but it will guarantee lavish quantities of high-quality water to a handful of corporate farms in the western San Joaquin Valley. Rank-and-file California taxpayers should not be expected to provide additional subsidies to the already highly subsidized agribusiness sector.

It is a poor investment. A University of the Pacific study found that the cost of increasing delta exports is more than twice the value of any benefits derived from the delivered water. This independent analysis is a trenchant rebuttal to a widely criticized state-sponsored benefit/cost analysis that is being skewed to promote the tunnels.

It is bad for the environment. The delta is the most important nursery for commercially valuable fisheries – including salmon and Dungeness crab – on the West Coast. The estuary already is severely stressed from excessive water diversions, and exporting more water will only ensure its collapse.

Earthquake risks are not accurately evaluated – twin tunnels proponents claim their scheme will obviate seismic risks to California’s water supply. Actually, the project will increase the likelihood of disaster. Earthquake risks in the delta are comparatively low. But the route for the water transferred through the California Aqueduct will cross the San Andreas Fault, one of the most active – and dangerous – faults on the planet. If we build the twin tunnels, one big quake on the San Andreas would destroy that water supply for millions of Californians.

The real problem is water oversubscription. State and federal agencies have committed to delivering over twice as much water than is available. No matter how much money we squander on ambitious delivery systems, we can’t export more water than exists. In order to draft a pragmatic and fair water policy, we must rely on accurate figures. Predicating a multibillion-dollar project on factitious numbers assures failure – and perhaps catastrophe,

There is a better way. We can achieve water security and delta health through a range of measures that are far less costly and disruptive than the twin tunnels. These include development of local sources, stormwater capture, water recycling and water conservation. We don’t need to destroy California – fiscally and environmentally – to “save” it.

Brown promoted an earlier version of the twin tunnels during his first term as governor in the 1980s: the so-called peripheral canal. It was rejected by Californians because they recognized a white elephant wrapped in pork when they saw one. Brown’s “new” idea is simply the same beast draped in fresh bacon, and it deserves an identical fate.

Local leaders understand this even if the governor doesn’t. At a Feb. 21 meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Dennis Cushman, the assistant general manager of the San Diego Water Authority, observed San Diego has reduced its reliance on delta water by 50 percent over the past 20 years. Cushman noted his agency planned additional reductions through the end of the decade. By doubling down on this trend, we can negate the “need” for the twin tunnels, maintain the solvency of the state and save the West’s richest estuary.

Krieger is president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN, online at www.c-win.org)
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