San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

By Craig W. Anderson

The Southern California Metropolitan Water District recently voted to commit $10.8 billion to the construction of the California WaterFix twin tunnels project. Gov. Jerry Brown’s WaterFix has been in serious funding danger due to the Westlands Water District and others withdrawing their funding support for the project.

The tunnels would intercept water at the point where the Sacramento River flows into the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta and send that water around the Delta to the pumps near Tracy, to be pumped to farmers and cities in Southern California.  “The California WaterFix … well, the fix is in,” said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett.

Funding bailout
Volunteering to pay that much to complete the tunnels didn’t impress SJFB President Jim Ferrari. “There is no way they’ll have enough money to complete the two tunnels,” he said. “And there isn’t an extra drop of water that will come from the tunnel project.” Ferrari is convinced that the state will run out of money and will end up completing the project with federal financial assistance.

“This doesn’t make financial sense and it seems to be a political ploy to please Gov. Brown and tunnel supporters,” said Dave Simpson, SJFB Water Committee chair. “I’m still struggling with the twin tunnels ever being built even with Metropolitan’s financial participation.”

Simpson said Southern California hasn’t bothered to participate in the drought over the past five years, noting that in a meeting with Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), Quinn told Simpson and Joe Valente, that “there was no drought and no water shortage in Los Angeles. And this after five years of drought. After we heard that, the question became: does Southern California really need more water?” 

Legal solutions require years
In fact, funding may be the least of the Water Fix’s worries: the project hasn’t acquired vital permits and lawyers for groups opposing the tunnels have begun legal processes that will take years to resolve. 

The $11 billion is “about one-fifth of what will be needed to complete this project,” said Blodgett. “Metro and the WaterFix are trying to sell taxpayers on the idea that $11 billion will complete the project when more billions will be required.” The current estimate of the project’s cost is $16.7 billion.

Ratepayers and taxpayers see higher bills
Blodgett said ratepayers and taxpayers will have to make up the difference with escalating water bills; the Metropolitan District has said it hopes to sell portions of the tunnels capacity to farmers in order to recover some of its investment. The district has more than 19 million residents using its water.

A troubling aspect of the entire situation is, said Blodgett, “that a Southern California water agency will be in control of the state’s water system which is the primary supplier of their water.” 

Simpson said, “The only customers for water will be Metro’s. And more than $1,000 per acre foot for agriculture and other uses we can anticipate some rough rapids ahead.”

SoCal risks, gripes
The Metropolitan District’s decision was decried by Delta landowners and farmers, Sacramento area elected officials and environmentalists along with Los Angeles and San Diego representatives in the district.

“It’s folly to take on the risk and the burden and the responsibility … with no assurance that at this point the Central Valley agencies are going to contribute,” said the district’s vice chairman John Murray Jr., a Los Angeles representative.  Los Angeles board member Mark Gold vilified the “idea of moving ahead on a project that the two largest cities in the state don’t support.”

This latest turn of events is not a surprise to Phil Brumley, almond grower and ag consultant, who said, “They want our water and will do whatever’s necessary to get it.”

Other rivers fill gap
He added that another aspect of the fix is that the State Department of Water Resources will offset the loss of water to SoCal by replacing it with water from the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers. “It’s not mentioned much but this is the plan.”

Ultimately, said Brumley, “until storage is built, the tunnels are a fallacy and also subverts California’s water rights” Ferrari, who was a representative from San Joaquin County among the One Voice delegation that met with Senate and House members in Washington, D.C. recently, said, “The talk here is about raising Shasta dam which would go a long way toward resolving some of our water issues.”

Alternatives to two tunnels
Brumley pointed out that alternate methods to help the Delta’s water challenges – not including the twin tunnels – include storage, improving the channels, ways to keep the water in the Delta instead of bypassing it, and dredging weren’t fully explored nor adequately considered and the tunnels concept was always the plan. “This is a case of throwing money at something and expecting positive results. Ultimately, it’s still moving water and a dredging program would move water through the estuary. The state is leaping ahead with the tunnels without fully considering other ways to get the job done.”

Water Demand Certain to Rise
The goal is, after all, to create water deliveries that will overcome the damage exports have caused to the Delta’s environment; tunnel opponents say it’s inevitable the tunnels would be used to take ever more water from the Delta. After all, why have the total capacity provided by two 45-foot diameter tunnels go unused? If the capacity exists for nearly 20,000 cubic feet of water per second to move Southward it’s almost certain SoCal will eventually demand it.

“What Gov. Brown and the state has proposed is this: spending billions to move water without creating more water,” said Ken Vogel, SJFB second vice president and a Linden-area walnut and cherry grower. “Without the participation of Los Angeles, San Diego and Westlands, it’s an indication that interest in the twin tunnels is waning.”

More water
Vogel also pointed out that “Shasta, Sites, and Temperance Flat reservoirs all could provide more water for more people. Shasta was designed to have its height increased.”

As for “what now?” the ticket is punched for the final showdown, a battle that could last more than a decade. “The battle lines haven’t changed, they’ve just gone sideways,” Blodgett said. “It’s a moving target and we’ll just keep shooting at it.”