Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Delta Plan: A 25 Billion Dollar Boondoggle

Dale Matson

“After seven years of work, the plan to fix California’s biggest water problem is 34,000 pages long. It is the highly technical Bay Delta Conservation Plan.” (Mark Grossi- The Fresno Bee 01-14-14)

“Overall, the goal is to simultaneously improve wildlife habitat and stabilize water supplies from the estuary, a source of water for 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland from San Jose to San Diego. Population growth, imperiled fish species and climate change have made that water supply increasingly vulnerable, and the project aims for a comprehensive fix.”

“At the core of the project is a pair of water tunnels, 35 miles long and 40 feet in diameter. They would divert a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow at three new intakes, proposed in Sacramento County between Freeport and Courtland. The tunnels alone are projected to cost $15 billion, which would be funded by the water agencies that benefit.”

Imagine if you will, two tunnels and pumps large enough to empty the entire flow of the Sacramento River. The prime directive in any intervention is; first, do no harm. This intervention is intended to appease the farmers, the Delta restorationists and the consumers in Southern California. These stakeholders have their own ideas about what share of the water they should get. In the end, who will determine what percentage of the flow of water would go to which stakeholder? The answer of course, is the courts would control the water valves. Rube Goldberg would be proud of the logistics of this project. It reminds me of some of the past efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers that were “riddled with patronage”.

The project is conceptually myopic. The assumption is, that if water is more efficiently distributed, we will improve the situation. Unfortunately, the problem has not been properly defined. This is the problem. California does not have enough water and spending billions to build a new distribution system will not solve this problem. Is it simply robbing from Peter to pay Paul? Is this project even cost effective?

One obstruction that will not be removed is not the old system but the old politics of distributing the water. The same court battles will ensue afresh. Does anyone really believe the water will be distributed any faster?

Water is a finite commodity in California and too much of it is already being redistributed to Southern California, an area not suited to support that large a population. We have a seasonally variable amount of Sierra runoff available. The Delta plan is simply mopping up a puddle not fixing the faucet. We also have a California population that is increasing, which requires additional water resources. Something must be done. It means a wiser plan for what is done with the water we do have and how that water is delivered.

In the spring and summer of 2010 I saw enormous San Joaquin River flowage passing through Woodward Park here in Fresno. The water was headed toward the Pacific Ocean. Much of this water was simply wasted because we don’t have adequate reservoir storage to accommodate the runoff from an abundant Sierra Snowpack. Why is there such resistance to more reservoirs being built in places like Temperance Flat above Millerton Lake? This means additional hydroelectric power, recreation sites and construction jobs too.

It also means new approaches in the creation of potable water such as building desalinization plants in places where water is needed most. That means building them in Southern California.
I don’t mind the scale and expense IF it is directed toward an intervention plan that is not counterproductive.

The Delta Plan is not a solution to a problem. It is not a water distribution problem.  The problem is improperly defined and thus wrong headed to begin with. The problem is an inadequate supply of water for an increasing population. The solution will require greater water conservation, additional storage and creation of new sources though desalinization.   

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