1. What is the Twin Tunnels project?
2. Who wants more water?
3. What is the Bay Delta Conservation Plan?
4. Who would pay for these tunnels?
5. Doesn’t Southern California need more water from Northern California?
6. What about drought and climate change?
7. What threat does a major earthquake pose to the water supply
8. I heard that building these tunnels will create a lot of jobs – isn’t that a good thing?
Governor Brown and California’s largest corporate agribusinesses have proposed building two underground 35-mile and 40-foot wide tunnels to divert the Sacramento River and maximize water exports from the San Francisco Bay Delta to the southwest San Joaquin Valley. The project is similar to the previously proposed Peripheral Canal, which was rejected by voters in a statewide referendum in 1982.
The Kern County Water Agency and the Westlands Water District, despite already receiving the majority of the water exported from the Bay Delta, are demanding more water. These agencies, located in the dry southwest side of the San Joaquin Valley, represent and provide water to California’s most powerful corporate agribusinesses and oil companies. Not only do these agribusinesses grow and export overseas water-intensive crops such as cotton and almonds, they sell taxpayer-subsidized water, originally intended for farming, for private profit. In addition, oil corporations in Kern County need billions of gallons of water for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations that are slated to expand in the region.
The Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which imports water from the Bay Delta and sells it to cities across southern California, is also backing the tunnels, [despite its water sales having declined by 30 percent.] Los Angeles, Orange County and Long Beach are planning on buying less imported water from the MWD and instead investing in more cost-effective local options. Santa Monica is planning to eliminate its water purchases from the MWD altogether and rely entirely on local water options.
Tunnel proponents have come up with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan as a way to mislead people about the actual impact that the twin tunnels would have on the San Francisco Bay Delta. Diverting the Sacramento River, which constitutes 80 percent of the freshwater flow into the San Francisco Bay Delta, would have a devastating effect on its fragile environment and salmon populations, which nearly collapsed in 2008 after record high levels of water exports. That’s why environmental and fishing groups across California strongly oppose these tunnels. Furthermore, diverting the Sacramento River away from the Bay Delta could cause sea levels in the greater San Francisco Bay Area to rise even higher than already anticipated due to climate change.
The construction, financing, operation and environmental mitigation of these tunnels is estimated to cost over $50 billion. The Governor’s figure of $14 billion is a low estimate for solely the cost of construction. It is estimated that water ratepayers in southern California would be responsible for paying 25 to 75 percent of the construction and operation costs of the tunnels. Ratepayers in Los Angeles alone could see their water bills skyrocket to pay $1.6 to $6 billion toward the tunnels, despite the fact that Los Angeles will import less water from the Bay Delta.
Corporate agriculture interests would also pay, but at a much cheaper rate. Southern California ratepayers and California taxpayers already subsidize water for Westlands and Kern, and these tunnels would make that subsidy much larger. Finally, California taxpayers could be on the hook for $3 to 5 billion of environmental cleanup and mitigation costs.
Cities across California are using less water than ever before. Because of improved efficiency, Los Angeles uses less water today than it did 30 years ago, despite having over 1 million more residents. Water use has dropped 10 to 15 percent in the last few years alone. The LA Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) water plan calls for doubling local water supply sources, fixing its aging, leaking infrastructure and reducing its purchases of imported water from the MWD. This means that Southern California will be using less water from the Bay Delta than ever before.
In fact, many water utilities are raising rates to make up for lost revenue as they are selling less water than in previous years. The massive costs of these tunnels would saddle water utilities with more debt, driving up rates even higher, while people use less water. Instead of wasting ratepayer money on unnecessary new tunnels, our State and local water agencies should invest in rebuilding our crumbling local water and sewer infrastructure, cleaning and augmenting groundwater, expanding rainwater catchment systems, recycling water, and improving water efficiency in the residential, commercial, and agricultural sectors. Not only would these measures secure our water supply, they would improve water quality, prevent pollution and create long-term jobs.
Los Angeles and other Southern California cities have effective and proven plans to prioritize water use in a drought. Normally, about 40 to 50 percent of residential water use goes to outdoor irrigation, which is scaled back when rainfall is scarce. In addition, both the LADWP and the MWD have invested billions in additional storage reserves, such as the Diamond Valley Lake. Finally, over 66 percent of all water exported from the Delta currently goes to agricultural uses, which could be made available for urban use if absolutely necessary. Should climate change result in new patterns of precipitation, local water agencies will need to diversify their water portfolio by maximizing and retaining local sources of water.
An earthquake in southern California poses a severe threat to our aging and crumbling water systems. For example, LADWP estimates that there were over 1,500 water main breaks in 2009. We must therefore prioritize fixing and upgrading our pipes and treatment plants so they can be prepared for the next “big one.” In addition, diversifying our water supply by increasing LA’s groundwater and capturing rainwater will help preserve access to water after a big earthquake.
Tunnel proponents make grossly exaggerated claims that an earthquake could disrupt water exports from the Bay Delta in order to justify spending billions on the tunnels and hide the fact that they want more water for themselves at our expense. The truth of the matter is that imported water will always be vulnerable to earthquakes because the California Aqueduct and its pumping stations are only a few miles from major earthquake faults. Putting in new tunnels will not change that fact nor decrease the vulnerability of the overall system.
This is why southern California cities are looking to decrease the amount of water the import and increase the local supply. Our money should go to these crucial projects and not be wasted on new massive tunnels that only benefit special interests.
Again, tunnel backers are making gross exaggerations to justify their massive tunnels. While some construction and planning jobs would be created to build the tunnels, this would come at the expense of jobs created in the communities where we live and work. Instead of paying billions to build the tunnels, Los Angeles should instead invest that money on fixing and upgrading its local infrastructure and investing in new local water supply projects, which would create thousands of local jobs.
In a tough economy, we know that ratepayers can only afford to pay so much. Thus, we should invest in fixing our failing local infrastructure, not helping finance a project that will primarily benefit large corporate interests.