Delta Stewardship Council Chair Phil Isenberg spends hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours of his life listening to people talk about the Delta, and he asks leading questions. To get an idea of what he thinks about all that, we can take a look at a speech he delivered on January 28 as part of the UC Davis California Water Policy Seminar series. He called it “If we can’t see the end of the tunnel, are we still on the road to somewhere?”
He begins with some background, comparing the Delta debate to Southern California’s debate over its use of the Colorado River. He refers to SWP and CVP exports that have been going on since the late 1950s, “but they represent only about 15 percent of the total annual human water used in California for our homes, businesses, industry or agriculture.”
“Upstream users – those of us in Northern California – use twice as much water as is exported from the Delta, and we donate to the Delta virtually all of our urban runoff, agricultural pollution, legacy mercury contamination, and a host of other problems.” (Fair enough. But many users of upstream water – although not those in the Bay Area using Mokelumne River or Hetch Hetchy water – are in areas of origin, the areas intended under the Water Code to have access to all the water they needed before any water was sent somewhere else. And solving the problems of pollution and contamination is made immensely more complicated and difficult by the State’s commitment to send water from the Delta watershed somewhere else.)
Isenberg says that climate change is making our water supply increasingly erratic. “The water management problems created by climate change are staggering, and they directly impact our ability to have reliable water and an improved Delta ecosystem.”
Isenberg says that most folks tell him to expect 10 to 15 years before any BDCP water facility is operational. He anticipates legal challenges. He says that last July’s announcement by Governor Brown and Interior Secretary Salazar represented a 40% reduction in the number of intakes (Yes: three instead of five) AND in the capacity of the tunnels (Really? The last we heard, the capacity was still 15,000 cfs).
As to how big the facility is going to be, he notes that the reduced capacity of the proposed tunnels is almost 60 percent smaller than 1982’s Peripheral Canal. But he says he has no idea how “big” the new facility will be or how much will be exported from it. He says that Brown and Salazar said there would not be legal guarantees for future water delivery. (But as long as you have capacity, you don’t need guarantees.)