Starting tomorrow, California's State Water Resources Control Board will begin hosting months of public hearings on whether or not to proceed with Jerry Brown's controversial "California WaterFix" project, or the "Delta Tunnels" as it is more commonly known. The project has been heavily criticized as yet another Brown-sponsored public works boondoggle with total price tag estimates ranging to over $65BN.
We have to admit that we're a little perplexed by this project as it seems to address only one of the symptoms of California's water crisis while completely ignoring the overall illness which is the complete inflexibility of the Endangered Species Act. While the twin tunnels may limit the number of smelt getting ensnared in the Delta pumping stations it does nothing to address the salinity issues raised by environmentalists when too much fresh water is removed from the system. Maybe we're a little dense, but it's unclear to us how moving upstream to divert fresh water flows from the Sacramento River, a river which otherwise empties into the Delta and accounts for roughly 85% of the total fresh water flows into the system, rather than pulling it directly from the existing pumping stations would have any impact on overall salinity levels in the Delta. As we discussed here just a few days ago, without addressing the inflexibility of the Endangered Species Act this is simply another opportunity to squander taxpayer money on more water infrastructure that will never actually be used because of leadership's inability and/or lack of desire to stand up to California's environmentalists in favor of practical solutions.
For those of you less familiar the intricacies of the proposal, the Delta Tunnels project calls for diverting a portion of the Sacramento River’s fresh water flow via new gravity-fed intakes more than 30 miles upstream, between Clarksburg and Courtland. The water would then flow south via two 40-foot-wide pipes buried 150 feet underground and ultimately feed into the existing state and federal canal systems.
While there are multiple viewpoints on the pros/cons of the Delta Tunnels (often based on where a person lives, farms, etc.), in general, proponents argue that the tunnel plan is better for the Delta Smelt population as it reduces reliance on large pumping stations at the south end of the Delta that often entrap the small fish. Opponents, on the other hand, view the tunnels simply as a form of corporate welfare for large corporate ag interests and/or are concerned that the tunnels will do nothing to actually increase water flows to the southern part California without relaxing rules under the Endangered Species Act.
Separately, California voters in November will be presented with a ballot initiative that could effectively torpedo the tunnels plan. Proposition 53, would require a statewide vote on any public works project financed with at least $2 billion in revenue bonds.