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OPINION: Peripheral tunnel plan wouldn’t save the delta
By Barbara Barrigan-Parrillla
Published February 28, 2013
In response to The Press-Enterprise editorial “Shore up state’s imperiled water supply” (Our Views, Feb. 17):
Implementation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan would not help augment a tightening water supply. The entire peripheral tunnels project is based on a series of myths generated by a few huge water-takers who get most of the water for unsustainable farming on arid land.
The people of the Inland Empire have a deep interest in getting a fair solution as they are the ones whose water bills will increase the most. The taxpayers of the south pay the debt for the water facilities while much of the water is virtually donated to the agribusiness giants of Kern.
Building two tunnels 40 feet in diameter will not make more water for Central Valley farmers or urban residents in Southern California. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan estimates costs of $23 billion for construction, habitat restoration, and monitoring and adaptive management. Add to that debt servicing costs of $1.1 billion per year for 35 years. Two-thirds of the water taken from the delta will go to land-rich mega-farmers and billionaires in Westlands, Kern and Semitropic water districts, many of whom will water cotton, almonds and other permanent, water-intensive crops, planted on arid land. These mega-farms represent about 1 percent of the population and 1 to 2 percent of the state’s economy. And they still want more water from the delta. Large portions of these crops are for export to India and China. The billionaires will sell some of the water to desert developers.
The reason delta fisheries are in crisis is because of over-exporting of water, so building a new project to export even more water is no solution. When the State Water Project was brought on board more than 40 years ago, the supply for new water was not developed on the state’s wild and scenic rivers. Instead, the Department of Water Resources, the Department of Fish and Game, and the State Water Resources Control Board failed to enforce the law, and allowed years and years of over-pumping from the delta, thereby ruining the water habitat needed by fish. More harm was caused by pumping facilities not properly screened to protect delta smelt and other native fish species. The State Water Resources Control Board has promised to water users eight times more in water rights than exists in actual water supply in the system.
The truth is that changing the point of diversion will not magically bring back fish or put more water back into the system for fish or water users. California experiences drought about one-third of the time, and with climate change, the frequency of drought will increase. Are we willing through taxes and higher water rates to pay $60 billion for two regularly-dry tunnels? And when water is flowing, are we willing to dewater the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast of the Americas so that corporate growers on the west and southern sides of the San Joaquin Valley, who receive 70 percent of the water taken from the delta, can continue growing unsustainable, subsidized crops like almonds for export?
In addition, the technology for the fish screens at the new intakes has not yet been designed. The Department of Fish and Game does not know if fish will recover passing three intakes. And, as the plan currently calls for continued pumping from the existing facilities during dry periods, without proper fish screening (which water contractors were supposed to pay for 20 years ago), fish will continue to be killed in large numbers as a result of water exports.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan at best can be called a pipe dream. It’s time for our elected officials, like Gov. Jerry Brown, to get serious and realistic about solving California’s water issues. Reclamation, recycling, ground water clean-up, storm water management, and large scale conservation projects will actually make thousands of jobs for Californians while creating a new water supply. Making each region in California as water independent as possible through local water projects will not only help to restore the delta, but it will actually secure California’s water future.