River News

Can California tunnel its way out of drought?
Experts examine impacts

January 15, 2014

Galen Kusic


restore the delt protest over tunnels
Photo By Galen Kusic
Restore the Delta protesters along with numerous environmental activists protest BDCP at a rally in December. Rogene Reynolds is pictured holding the Stop the Tunnels sign. The coalition of various environmental groups has grown stronger than ever.

Restore the Delta kicked off the New Year right where it left off – by discounting the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) with facts from experts in their respective fields about why the project won’t work. At the same time, experts provided common sense alternatives that would help California prosper into a new age.

Having had one of the most successful campaigns in recent history in 2013, RTD is focused on continuing to push back against the twin tunnels project and create a new dialogue about fair water policy for all Californians. Monday’s teleconference was intended to provide information to the media that indeed - BDCP is not the answer to the state’s water crisis.

“BDCP’s own analysis shows that in drought years like this one, it will not provide one more new drop of water,” said Jonas Minton of the California Planning and Conservation League. “Spend it when we’ve got it, and forget the dry times are inevitable.”

Minton emphasized the better approach would be to invest wisely in projects that produce new water and local jobs. This includes groundwater storage, water recycling and desalination, One example of water recycling is in Orange County, where it provides enough water for 600,000 residents each year.

Tom Stokely of the California Water Impact Network described that the twin tunnels will provide absolutely no relief in water shortages during a drought. He explained that this is because it is nothing more than a water conveyance system. Without water to convey, the tunnels will remain dry as the Mojave Desert.

“The drought in California is a game changer,” said Stokely. “It will affect the way we live and could have very negative impacts on our economy. It’s like building a 12-lane superhighway to accommodate a chicken with bicycle traffic.”

Stokely discussed the over-subscribing of Delta water rights, and that the Sacramento River’s flow is currently running at just 7,000 cubic feet per second. The tunnels themselves would be capable of 9,000 cfs, the entire flow of the Sacramento River. He lastly explained that with no new water, California would continue to remain in crisis during drought.

John Herrick of the South Delta Water Agency discussed the fact that the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers barely produce enough water as it is – and in dry years leave little room for exports south.

In the late 1920’s when California had a horrific drought, the system produced somewhere around 17.1 million-acre feet of water. The annual amount of water needed within the basin is somewhere around 25 million-acre feet. That leaves the system 8 million acre feet short.

Last year, the Central Valley Project and State Water Project took over 800,000 acre-feet more than was allotted to meet outflow and fishery standards within the Delta. Thus, this decreased the reservoirs to dangerously low levels and with even less precipitation this year – leaves the system in serious peril.

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance spoke about the common occurrence of drought in California, and the fact that consecutive dry years occur frequently.

“We’ve had two droughts in the last seven years,” said Jennings. “Unfortunately the State Water Projects operate on a year-to-year basis with little thought for tomorrow.”

He explained that when water quality standards are violated year after year in the Delta, it decimates the fish population. Not to mention the Tracy pumps that kill millions of fish each year – without enough water in the system, fish cannot survive.

Jennings noted that failure to predict a consecutive dry year and plan to create water storage to brace for the upcoming water shortage is detrimental to all Californians.

“It is inexcusable,” he said. “While god created these dry conditions, it is the severe mismanagement that has brought us to the precipice of disaster.”

Jennings lastly noted that Metropolitan Water District has plenty of storage for this year – but that northern California will be in a world of hurt if something is not done to change these current trends. Disregarding and violating 150 years of water rights laws and environmental protection statutes are what he believes southern California water agencies expect northern California farmers to adhere to.

Dr. Jeffrey Michael relayed that in 2009 the water exporters manufactured a public relations campaign to push an agenda that pumping restrictions were causing unemployment and crops to dry up in the Central Valley. Michael discounted this, stating that the Westside of the Central Valley is one of the poorest regions in the state, and that the housing collapse had a huge impact on the economy going south – not the protection of fish from pumping restrictions in the Delta.

“Hopefully this time around the media will be informed,” he said. “This year is potentially to be as bad as 2009 or even worse. There could be a short term decline of 10,000 agricultural related jobs.”

He explained that a double-digit unemployment rate would most likely occur, but that it needs to be put into perspective of the broader picture. He explained these are permanent economic conditions in the region. Currently, there is a labor shortage in agriculture, much different than in 2009.

“Alternative water supply and recycling generates 12-19 jobs per million dollars invested,” he said.

He explained to construct the tunnels; it would only generate eight jobs per million dollars. Restore the Delta continues to point to the writing on the wall – common sense solutions to the water shortage are needed, not two huge pipes installed 150-feet below one of the earth’s greatest estuaries.


Return 2014 Return Home