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In Cased You Missed It: Could Delta Tunnels Cost Balloon Fivefold like the Oroville Spillway Repair?

Clendaniel: Stop the Delta debacle before property owners get gouged – Ed Clendaniel for The Mercury News

“In an audacious move, proponents argued that the Delta tunnels project is merely a “maintenance” project of the original State Water Project that California voters approved in 1960. No need to waste time going back to voters for what should be considered ongoing work, they say.

“Talk about chutzpah. It would be the biggest digging project in U.S. history, the equivalent of building a 35-mile long, 10-lane freeway 150 feet underground, capable of moving enough water south to fill 8,000 Olympic-size swimming pools every day.

“The governor and Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District’s desperate maneuver stems from their years-long struggle to get water districts to sign on to the project.

“Extending the contracts of current State Water Project members for another 50 years would put 27 districts throughout the state on the hook to cover the cost of the contracts that would fund the Delta tunnels. Three Bay Area water districts — Santa Clara Valley Water District, Alameda County Water District and Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District Zone 7 — are affected.

“The contract extensions would force those districts to raise property taxes if they don’t have sufficient revenues on hand to pay their share of the “maintenance” project.

“Estimates vary on how much property owners would have to pay, given the uncertainty over the ultimate cost. Digging projects are notorious for going double, even triple over budget. Boston’s Big Dig ballooned from $2.6 billion to nearly $15 billion before it was completed. A reasonable guess, if the project stays on budget, is roughly $10 a month, which may not sound like a lot. But that total adds up to $2,400 over 20 years, or $4,800 over 40 years.

“Don’t look to Proposition 13 for help. It was passed 18 years after the State Water Project was approved, so Prop. 13 safeguards wouldn’t apply.”

Oroville Dam repairs now exceed $1 billion and ‘may be adjusted further’ as work continues – Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow for The Sacramento Bee

“The price tag for the 2017 crisis at Oroville Dam has surged past $1 billion.

“DWR spokeswoman Erin Mellon, citing the enormity of the repair project, told reporters on a conference call that cost estimates “may be adjusted further” as work continues into 2019. DWR said it expects to have the dam’s two spillways substantially rebuilt by Nov. 1 and ready for the winter rains.

“The state expects the federal government to pick up the lion’s share of the costs.

“DWR’s first cost estimate, in the earliest days of the emergency, was $200 million. In January, nearly a year later, DWR officials said the price had grown to $870 million.

“In January, a team of independent engineers concluded that poor maintenance was a factor in the emergency, along with poor design and construction. The forensic team said the state and federal officials who inspected Oroville Dam relied too heavily on visual inspections, ignoring blueprints, construction records and other documented clues that could have warned them about the dam’s troubled flood-control spillway long before it fractured in February 2017.”

Executive Director of Restore the Delta, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said,
“We as part of the Environmental Water Caucus (EWC), in addition to other environmental groups, have sent letters calling for an accounting of Oroville and State Water Project costs, but have heard nothing over the last 19 months.

“The Oroville Dam Spillway repair project has increased fivefold from its original estimate in the span of one year and seven months. If the $19.9 billion Delta tunnels project ballooned to five times its current estimated cost, that would mean total project costs could reach $100 billion.

“With that 12-digit figure in mind, the JLBC hearing should not happen until DWR assesses the full accounting of the State Water Project, including continued Oroville repairs, CA WaterFix amendments as part of the State Water contract, and a finance plan for the tunnels project. Holding the hearing before all of these essential materials are available is irresponsible governance and willful ignorance.


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  • Janet Willett
    September 7, 2018, 9:44 am

    Please do not allow the tunnels project to proceed. The costs in dollars and environmental issues are not fully supported. This project could be a great disaster for our state.