Yes, Twin Tunnels Costs Too Much

Responding to Ray Stokes, executive director of the Central Coast Water Authority, who wrote “The Truth About State Water” as commentary on my op-ed “The Waterless State Water Solution” on the dangers of early State Water Project contract renewal and the flaws of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), the Twin Tunnels Project, and the Coastal Branch, I’d like to point out a few things.

First, consider the cost overruns of the Coastal Branch, the BDCP’s forerunner. This is the aqueduct that was built in the 1990s to provide State Water to the Central Coast. Before a vote on the project in 1991, Department of Water Resources (DWR) estimated the construction costs of the Coastal Branch at $270 million. In 1994, the agency cited $409 million as the final cost. But these estimates had no basis in reality: The final costs, inclusive of debt service, were $1.76 billion.

Nor has the Coastal Branch been reliable in delivering water. Boosters of the project have employed accounting legerdemain in an attempt to make the actual 36 percent average in annual contract deliveries look like 77 percent. This is a classic use of “paper water” — relying on creative number crunching to make up for the deficit in real-world water. But no matter how you parse the acre feet, the amount of water delivered in toto to the four Central Coast water agencies by the Coastal Branch has averaged 36 percent at best.

Moreover, this year will be even worse than average. We are in the throes of a vicious drought, and the DWR estimates initial water allocations from State Water will only constitute 5 percent of contracted amounts.

And now, to quote Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again. Until last month, DWR claimed the Twin Tunnels would “only” cost ratepayers $25 billion. Let’s recall that seven years ago DWR set the price tag at $4 billion. Then it went to $14 billion. The agency gamely tried to stick by its most recent figure of $25 billion until investigations revealed the final figure would likely hit $67 billion; now officials are waffling, acknowledging that final costs may be higher than anticipated.

But even this latest estimate is overly optimistic. Given the cost overruns typical for projects of this scope, the final bill for the Twin Tunnels probably will tally at least $100 billion.

Finally, Twin Tunnels proponents enthuse that an immediate extension of our State Water contracts will allow DWR to finance the project over a 30-year period, spreading the costs over time.

In other words, a contract revision will allow the agency to issue more bonds and spend more ratepayer money. This is a bargain? No thanks.

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