The California Department of Water Resources released the joint state and federal Draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement for public review and comment through April 14. Though the goals of the plan are to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem and to secure California water supplies, the plan fails to secure California water supplies.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is the hub of California’s water system. The system presently uses pumps and aqueducts to divert and move water to urban and agricultural water users throughout the state. The aqueducts provide drinking water to more than 25 million people (about two-thirds of all Californians), and serve nearly 4 million acres of irrigated farmland (producing one-quarter of the nation’s food supply).
The plan includes a preferred alternative to construct two, 35-mile-long water tunnels and three water intake facilities with a total capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second to divert a portion of the Sacramento River’s water under the Delta to the pumps and aqueducts. By comparison, the two Delta pumping plants now serving the state and federal aqueducts have a total capacity of 15,100 cfs. The preferred alternative would result in less water infrastructure capacity than exists today.
The plan also would restore 147,000 acres of habitat for endangered species, including taking farmland out of production.
The $25 billion project would apportion $15 billion to build and operate the tunnels, and $10 billion to habitat-restoration projects.
Water agencies that hope to benefit from the plan have already allocated $240 million for combined total planning costs to get the project to this point, most of which has been spent to produce the 9,000-page plan and its 25,000-page EIR/EIS. Another $1.2 billion will be needed to complete the planning before construction can start in 2017, which is included in the $15 billion cost of the tunnels. Construction would take nearly a decade.
The water agencies are expected to pay for nearly 70 percent of the tunnels’ cost and pass it on to their customers. Habitat restoration costs would be paid by taxpayers.
Crucial details of the plan, such as funding commitments and how much water the tunnels ultimately divert, are left to future political actions. The plan does not have anywhere near the funding in place to complete the project. Even after spending $240 million, the question of how much free water flow is needed to sustain endangered fish species like Delta smelt and salmon is still disputed.
State and federal wildlife agencies have indicated that they will approve only the plan with more water for habitat purposes, as part of their findings when the permit is issued for the plan. Environmentalists have already stated their intent to litigate the Biological Opinion for the permit, to render the tunnels useless. Environmentalists want to make it impossible for the state to grow.
The Delta flow criteria issued by the State Water Board on Aug. 3, 2010, and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) planning process reflect more priority being given to the Delta ecosystem than to providing a more reliable water supply for California.
Presently, 65 to 75 percent of the water flowing through the Delta runs into the ocean, and only 27 percent is diverted to water users to the south.
The plan would attempt to meet the needs of 58 percent more people in California by 2050 with less water infrastructure capacity than today, which brings into question the ability of the plan to accommodate this expected future growth.
Since the plan cannot meet its goals, it does not warrant further investment.
Bruce Colbert is executive director of the Property Owners Association of Riverside County. The association is a nonprofit, public policy research, lobbying and educational organization, formed in 1983, to protect the interests and private property rights of landowners in the formation and implementation of public policies.