Tunnel Project Totters Financially; Fixing Up Current Conveyance Gets More Water

The Brown administration’s plan to dig giant water tunnels under the Delta looks financially precarious, like a bus hanging out over a cliff. It’s economic benefits have been seriously challenged and there is no agreement yet whether the people who stand to profit are willing to pay for it.  State water contractors in the San Joaquin Valley and southern California who want this pricey project, called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan or BDCP, are promising economic benefits based on a supposed threat that, without the tunnels, future water exports will plummet.

A central problem for tunnel promoters is that if their predictions are wrong about sinking water exports – if future water deliveries through existing Delta channels continue as they are today, and especially if they improve, the economic value of the tunnels would evaporate.  Several sources consulted for this report believe that water exports could be improved in the near future, with new fish screens that are in current testing, plus some modifications of through-Delta channels. That, combined with new storage south of the Delta to take excess water in wet years, could either make tunnels unnecessary or reduce their size.

Read more here

A Rich History in the CA Delta

In her blog, The California Spigot, Patricia McBroom writes about efforts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to resurrect a long human history of living and farming in this watery  heartland.  Descendants of Gold Rush immigrants still live there, watching the waterways and maintaining the levees, as they have done for 150 years.  Their agricultural livelihood is threatened by political forces that want to build huge tunnels under the Delta and return large tracts of farming land to original marshland.  Now, leaders and scholars in the Delta are moving to stitch together the historical and prehistorical narratives that shaped the area, hoping that wider public recognition will help preserve their tenure on the land.  Applications have been submitted to the Federal Government for a National Endowment for the Arts grant and for recognition as a National Heritage Area site.  If  Congress approves legislation, it would be the first such NHA in California.

From the article:

The area deserves the best we can do,” said (Robert) Benedetti (professor of political science at University of the Pacific in Stockton). “This is our Jamestown.  From prehistory to industrialization, the Delta is the place that held California in its infancy.”
Along the winding waterways are the remnants of a river culture that barged food, coal and other products from Sacramento to San Francisco for more than 50 years from 1850 to the 1930s. Before them came Native Americans, a large population who thrived for thousands of years in California’s rich Central Valley, including the Delta.  It is a history, however, that is still mostly unknown, scattered in archives throughout the state.  Efforts are now being made to bring it together and none too soon.
But, while public awareness of its history and new recreational opportunities are certainly needed in the Delta, these things alone can not counter the threats to agricultural viability there.  Agriculture is by far the most important economic engine in the Delta, and it is being challenged from several directions. 
To read the whole article, click here

Patricia McBroom reports on the build-up to the soon-to-be-released Delta water plan

In her blog, “California Spigot,” Patricia McBroom (a member of the CSA’s Steering Committee) has an extensive current post on the build-up to the release, expected in mid-February, of the State of California’s new plan for the Sacramento Delta. McBroom reports on the actions by a coalition of environmental groups to influence the report by means of a joint list of recommendations.  From the blog:

Thanks to new cooperation by the environmental community, the Council now has strong support for several very important goals. Among the most important of these is a call to restore adequate flow to the Delta estuary and reduce the State’s reliance on Delta water for human uses.

In the past decade, high levels of upstream and downstream use of this water have crashed the ecosystem, caused the near extinction of several species of fish, reduced salmon runs to near zero, sent pollution levels soaring and caused all manner of scary ecological changes.  But the extent to which restricted flows in the Delta caused the collapse or can lead to its recovery is a source of intense disagreement. Water contractors and growers have pushed to retain the same high levels of use they had before the drought of the past three years, while Delta ecologists and supporters argue that use should be cut dramatically – up to 50 percent in some scenarios, from 6 million acre feet (MFA) per year of exported water to roughly 3 million.

To read the entire report, click here.