Gov. Jerry Brown's tunnel vision on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta points to a $23 billion disaster. A tipoff: The governor and Legislature refuse to require a cost-benefit analysis of the project, which feeds suspicion that it wouldn't pencil out.
There is no conclusive scientific evidence that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan will improve the health of the Delta, the largest estuary west of the Mississippi. And any plan that further damages the compromised ecosystem will have ramifications far beyond the ability to water Hollywood lawns. That's the main thing this plan will do, just about everyone agrees: make it easier to transport water from Northern California to the thirsty South.
So Los Angeles and Big Ag are cheering. Not us.
The tunnels are an attempt to solve complex problems of water supply and environmental health. But there are simple ways to shore up supply. One is to strengthen the Delta levees that protect farmland and, by the way, critical parts of the Bay Area's water supply, which could vanish with the next earthquake or flood. Some work has been done, but at least another $1 billion worth is needed.
Brown presented his plan Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar at his side. The state would build two massive, side-by-side 37-mile tunnels under the Delta to transport water from the Sacramento River to the south. This could divert 9,000 cubic feet of water a second -- enough to fill
Taxpayers would pay $3 billion to $4 billion for habitat restoration, and water providers would pay the remaining $19 billion in construction costs and operating expenses.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California promises to pay 25 percent of the cost. But some of Metropolitan's 25 member agencies, including San Diego, have expressed serious reservations about the plan.
Only one thing is sure to improve the health of the Delta: more water, not less, flowing through it. Unfortunately, politics and Southern California's thirst have driven this plan rather than solid science.
"Keep in mind what is at stake here," warns Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, a veteran of the water wars. "A badly designed plan can harm drinking water supplies, further endanger California's salmon runs, and ruin the economic livelihood of tens of thousands in the fishing and related industries up and down our coast."
Thirty years ago, then-and-now Gov. Jerry Brown tried to build a peripheral canal around the Delta. In a referendum that killed the plan, more than 90 percent of voters in nearly every Northern California county saw the canal for what it was: a southern water grab.
California shouldn't spend money like water on Delta tunnels without a real cost-benefit analysis and clearer evidence of the effects on the Delta.