PIEDMONT -- Speaking to the League of Women Voters of Piedmont, a state water resource expert expressed doubt that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta -- targeted for a $25 billion restoration effort -- can be repaired.
"The delta is unprotectable," Michael Hanemann, UC Berkeley's chancellor professor of the Environmental and Resource Economics Department, told a group of about 35 people at a Sept. 23 League meeting. "It is a lost water supply."
In 2014, state voters could be asked to consider investing an estimated $15 billion into building an underground pipeline to protect the water supply to Southern California should dams fail, and another $10 billion in ecosystem restoration.
The delta provides water to roughly 25 million Californians, according to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, including 30 percent of Southern California's water. The delta is in critical condition, however, due to the weakening of the existing infrastructure that is substandard and subjected to increasingly severe weather events.
Hanemann, who also is a professor at Arizona State University, said a cost-benefit analysis of the delta restoration plan is flawed. The flaw, he said, lies in the identification of four groups who would benefit from the investment: urban water users, agricultural users, crop consumers within the state, and global consumers of California crops. Hanemann said the research should not include global crop consumers as they would not pay into the repairs.
Corrected analysis would likely show the investment would not provide enough benefit to ratepayers to justify the cost.
"That is a lot of money, and it's not producing more water; it's just making the existing supply reliable," Hanemann said. "I'm not sure in my own mind whether this investment is worth its while."
Hanemann's presentation came at the behest of members of the League of Women Voters, who are set to update the nonpartisan political party's agricultural position in the coming months. Members from leagues in Piedmont and Oakland are forming a committee to look at California's water issues in advance of the 2014 election.
"It touches really every portion of our lives," said Piedmont League President Hope Salzer. "You can't really accomplish anything unless you address it."
During the two-hour presentation, Hanemann offered a history of world water issues with a detailed focus on California's struggles to meet the growing demand for urban water use, whose increase is more than offsetting an overall decrease in agricultural water use. Pointing to more energy-efficient plumbing practices such as low-flow toilets that use less than half of the amount of water-per-flush than traditional toilets, Hanemann said indoor water use in urban areas has largely been reigned in. Outdoor use, however, remains uncontrolled, he said.
Hanemann pointed to California's history of allowing groundwater sources to be tapped without properly documenting how much was being drawn as a major problem in the system. He added that water agencies have been slow to react to historic miscalculations in groundwater pumping.
To that end, Hanemann said hydraulic fracturing, known commonly as fracking, could be the impetus to greater monitoring of underground resources. The controversial procedure involves the injection of fluid into rock formation cracks to allow underground resources, such as oil, to flow more readily.