[env-trinity] Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog: Bay Delta Conservation Plan more than tunnels, state leader says

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Fri Jun 21 16:34:43 PDT 2013

A couple of env-trinity subscribers sent me this, so I thought I'd forward to you.

It just doesn't seem like the Twin Tunnels pencils out economically.  See comment from Jeffrey Michael below too.


Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog
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Bay Delta Conservation Plan more than tunnels, state leader says
by Mark Grossi on June 20, 2013

I listened to the state’s top water leader talk for an hour Thursday about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Then I tried to check some of his data online.

The download of so many documents crashed my computer. Let’s just go straight to the talk at The Fresno Bee editorial board meeting, which did not break any news.

Mark Cowin, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources, said the controversial plan is more than tunnels and arguments. Nonetheless, he had to spend time explaining the two huge water tunnels being proposed at the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The tunnel idea is to move Sacramento River water south in tunnels so the water doesn’t pass through the delta. The idea is the epic issue for California natural resources these days, easily on a par with the Peripheral Canal fight I covered 30 years ago.

Some Northern Californians have told me it’s simply a water grab for Central Valley farmers and Southern California. The delta’s ecosystem and Northern California will suffer, they say.

Some farmers and Southern Californians argue it would give the state a more certain water supply. Plus, the delta would get the chance to heal, they say.

Cowin said he supports the $25 billion tunnels, but the plan is equally about restoring the faltering delta.

He and Karla Nemeth, outreach and communications manager, said saving the delta’s dying fish species and declining habitat is a linchpin of the plan. They mentioned such projects as rebuilding flood plains and fattening up migrating salmon.

We asked tunnel questions, such as: How much difference would the tunnels have made for west Valley farmers who lost water this year in environmental cutbacks for the threatened delta smelt?

Cowin and Nemeth said the tunnels probably would have resulted in about 700,000 acre-feet of additional water.

The draft of this plan should be available in the next few months, they said. I’m not sure that will give you enough time to read the 27,000 pages of documents related to it.

Tagged as: delta smelt, farmers, habitat, irrigation, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta,salmon, San Joaquin Valley, Southern California, Westlands Water District


Jeff Michael says:
June 21, 2013 at 5:27 am
Assume that they are right about the 700,000 acre feet of additional water supply. What would it cost? The state puts tunnels debt service at $1.2 billion per year over 40 years. Divide that debt service by 700k acre feet, and you get over $1,700 per acre foot.

Can that possibly make sense for farmers that currently pay less than $100 per acre foot and complain bitterly in dry years when they pay $300 per acre foot for supplemental supplies?

A typical crop takes 3 feet of water, a little above $5,000 per acre at $1,700 per acre foot. Average gross revenue per irrigated acre for Fresno County farmland is a little under $4,000 per acre, and typical net profit is 20-40% of revenue, $1,500 net profit per acre is excellent. At BDCP water prices, farming in Fresno is unprofitable, it isn’t even close. This math will be hidden, because BDCP will spread the cost over all the exported water, not just the incremental supply. So farming on average might still be profitable with BDCP, but it will be significantly less profitable than it is under the current system. Farmers are much better off dealing with the problems with the current system. While the water is not as reliable as they would like, it is cheap. Devin Nunes is right that BDCP is a terrible deal for Valley ag. The benefits are low, and the costs are extreme. And if you consider the losses to Delta agriculture from BDCP, which is also part of Valley agriculture, it really makes no sense for California farming.

This financial reality is why more and more Valley farmers have soured on the BDCP despite their instinct to support water infrastructure.

The best way to increase agricultural water supplies in the Valley is for urban areas to develop alternative water supplies that increase the state’s water supply. This will reduce their demand for imported water and free up supplies for agriculture.

Mark Grossi says:
June 21, 2013 at 3:27 pm
Thank you, Jeff. For those who don’t follow this issue closely, Jeffrey Michael is an economist and director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of Pacific.


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