[env-trinity] Record Searchlight Editorial: Even the best case for Delta tunnels holds zero for north

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sat Aug 31 10:53:51 PDT 2013


Editorial: Even the best case for Delta tunnels holds zero for north
The question of the day was simple enough: When it comes to the state’s multibillion-dollar proposal to build tunnels diverting Sacramento River water around the Delta to points south, “How will Sacramento Valley interests be addressed?”
But the answers at a forum in Chico last week were as complex — and polarized — as you’d expect.
Jerry Meral, Gov. Jerry Brown’s deputy secretary of natural resources who’s overseeing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, worked to downplay the project’s effects and ease the fears of a skeptical, if not hostile, crowd. The tunnels won’t change the way Shasta or Trinity lakes are managed, he said, while Oroville will see only modest changes. (No drawdown of Shasta to a muddy “dead pool,” in other words.) The pipes will in no way affect North State residents’ water rights under state law, he stressed. Any potential for water sales out of the valley — an idea even more likely to provoke a fight in farm-rich Butte County than in Shasta County — would have nothing to do with the state, but involve the decisions of local water districts.
Ara Azhderian, water policy administrator for the large San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, likewise downplayed the tunnels’ effects. The cities and especially the farmers that the authority supplies, he noted, have faced enormous swings in water availability through the Delta the past two decades, mainly because of pumping restrictions as various fish have fallen to the brink of extinction. Restoring habitat to ease pressure on endangered fish and building tunnels to better manage water will only give them a predictable stream, he argued. That alone — not the prospect of vast new supplies — is why water districts have enlisted in a drive to spend billions of dollars for a project that stands to double their water rates.
Do you buy those assurances?
Few in the north do. Congressman John Garamendi, the Democrat who represents the Delta and the Sacramento Valley as far north as Glenn County, certainly doesn’t.
In rhetoric verging on the apocalyptic, Garamendi predicted that the tunnels would ravage the North State and especially the Delta — and inevitably lead to pressure to relinquish water rights. As an example of what to expect, he pointed to a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives (but not the Senate) last year that would have overrode many state laws in the name of providing reliable water to San Joaquin Valley farms. He argued that oversized tunnels — necessary, project developers say, to allow gravity to do the bulk of the work of moving water — have “the capacity to suck the Delta dry,” a fate he said was only a matter of time if the tunnels are built.
It wasn’t all bombast. Garamendi also promoted his own water plan, which still includes a tunnel — though a much smaller one — along with water-storage projects around the state (enlarging Shasta Dam included), groundwater cleanup and replenishment, and greater focus on water conservation and reuse in dry areas. “The fifth largest river on the West Coast is Southern California’s sanitation system,” Garamendi said, pointing to the absurdity of moving water 500 miles south and over a mountain range, only to use it once, treat it and let it flush into the Pacific. (Orange County has already embraced “toilet to tap” water recycling — but it is a lonesome pioneer.)
The congressman’s bottom line: State officials should drop the project, which is too costly, won’t solve the state’s water problems, would deeply harm the people of the Delta and — in any case — will be tied up in court so long that moving a drop of water is implausibly distant.
Garamendi drew enthusiastic applause from the Chico crowd — and it’s easy to see why.
Even taking state officials and south-of-Delta water users at their word, the very best thing they can come north and say about the tunnel project is that it won’t hurt the Sacramento Valley.
On the one hand, you’ve got a $25 billion project that will at best preserve the status quo. On the other, potentially severe risks to the local water supplies in the one part of California that doesn’t endure chronic shortage — which we call home.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is dizzyingly complex. The bottom line for the North State couldn’t be simpler — all risk, no reward.
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