Have we finally learned our lesson? Water in California is a finite resource, and we can’t build our way out of drought. Fortunately, more and more people are realizing this from the bogus promises the State Water proponents told us in 1991: The Promise that State Water would solve our local water demand problem; The Promise that State Water would be relatively cheap; The Promise that State Water was reliable, delivered on time and when needed.
Now, in 2016, we know from independent studies that the state promised more water than ever could be delivered. We know that water costs on the South Coast, rather than the low cost advertised in 1991, has been as much as $37,000 an acre-foot during this drought when so little was actually delivered. We know that when we need it most, it is not available in the amounts we contracted for, if available at all. Meanwhile many local water agencies are facing financial difficulties, as the fixed costs of State Water remain high while income from water sales to homes and businesses has declined due to conservation.
Now here comes Governor Brown to fix the problem. The “fix” is a proposal to build two massive, twin tunnels, 40 feet wide, 35 miles long, and buried 150 feet underground. They will divert Sacramento River water away from the Bay/Delta and directly into the canals and pipes that carry water to Southern California. How ironic that the governor calls these huge tunnels the “WaterFix” since the state has admitted there is no new water to put in these tunnels. What the tunnels will do is “more efficiently” move the water out of the Sacramento River by reducing the amount of fresh water that sustains the Bay/Delta. If the WaterFix goes through, it will irreparably harm the fisheries and ecosystem of the entire region by allowing pollutants, sediments, and salt-water intrusion into the area.
The governor, worrying that the huge cost of constructing these behemoths will scare the ratepayers and sink the project, is frantically looking for ways to pay for the tunnels without a vote of the people. He should be worried as the tunnels are estimated to cost about $20 billion to construct without the inevitable cost overruns; with bond interest and operations expense included, the cost is estimated to balloon up to $69 billion. After spending $250 million and 10 years of planning, the project is only 10 percent engineered. So if you are a ratepayer in Santa Barbara County and the project is completed, you can expect to be paying a hefty amount to build something that won’t give you any new water.
The real solution is to quantify how much water there really is in the Delta and divide it according to the senior water rights laws. This must include a Public Trust Valuation to protect the rivers, the fish, and the environment.
The tunnels need to be stopped. C-WIN (California Water Impact Network), as a statewide organization, is totally prepared to stop them and in the process fix our ailing water system. C-WIN has been planning and preparing for this since 2006; we have the most knowledgeable water lawyers, world-class economic expert witnesses, and other experts that will be needed.
The State Water Resources Control Board is the state agency charged with approving the tunnels. Part of its required process is to hold evidentiary hearings, which will happen this summer. C-WIN plans on being there with the evidence not only to stop the tunnels but actually get to the underlying reasons why the Delta is failing and have a chance, through the courts, to fix it.
Carolee Krieger is president and executive director of C-WIN.