When it comes to water delivery, Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced he will reduce the state’s plan to build tunnels around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in 2019.
His 3,000-page plan to build a single massive tunnel to increase the reliability of water exports was unveiled on Wednesday, but it comes at a tremendous cost to the delta farm economy and, who knows its fragile ecosystem.
Increasing sea levels and a historic drought are causing water managers in California’s most populous cities to worry about the delta’s already salty condition. The delta is both a transportation hub for water and a habitat for endangered species, some of which are on the verge of extinction.
Water produced by severe storms may be sent to thirsty communities in the south via a streamlined version of the tunnel concepts advocated by the administrations the Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown. This replumbing has been driven in large part by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Climate change is still a threat to all Western water sources, according to Metropolitan Water District general manager Adel Hagekhalil. Capturing and storing excess water is an essential part of adapting to climate change, which is why we must be prepared to use that water when conditions are less favorable.
Delta farmers will also be affected by a modern-day Peripheral Canal, according to a draught environmental impact report that was issued Wednesday. A lack of information on how much water would be drained from the river each year and at what times of year is a major concern for environmentalists.
An attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said, “The status quo in the delta threatens the survival of our native fish and species, as well as thousands of fishing jobs and towns that depend on a healthy ecosystem.” Even worse for the environment would be this planned system, compared to what we’ve got now.
Given federal and state endangered species rules, he added, it’s not obvious whether the idea will be allowed, given that water diversions from sensitive habitats may be prohibited. He promised to take it to court if it’s approved.
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Rather than going through the middle of the delta, the state’s preferred plan calls for the building of a 36-foot-diameter tunnel on the inside. Capturing Sacramento River water and pumping it to Bethany Reservoir, which is northwest of Tracy and only 17 miles south of Sacramento’s capitol building. This is where the current State Water Project pumps are already located.
If built, it would be the state’s largest infrastructure project since the high-speed rail system, which has had repeated delays, cost overruns, and litigation — roadblocks that the water tunnels could encounter. One of the reasons the state’s powerful labor unions and several governors have supported versions of this plan for decades is that it would create thousands of jobs.
The cost estimate is $16 billion, which is $3 billion less than the double-tunnel system projected in 2018 under Brown’s administration.
This project has been supported by large water districts, such as the Metropolitan Water District and the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose. The State Water Project supplies water to a total of 14 additional water authorities.
The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority, a collection of water agencies, is expected to spend $360 million on the project between 2021 and 2024. About $44 million of the cost is being borne by the Metropolitan Water District.
Projects planned by the Brown and Schwarzenegger administrations were much larger than the single tunnel project. It has a maximum capacity of 6,000 cubic feet per second, but Brown’s concept planned for a capacity 50% higher. It was even more ambitious: 15,000 cubic feet per second for Schwarzenegger.
The Peripheral Canal, which was vetoed by voters in the 1980s, would have had a maximum capacity of 22,000 cubic feet per second, but none of these projects would be as large.
According to Greg Gartrell, an adjunct fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California and an independent consulting engineer, the suggested tube, despite its smaller size, may offer nearly as much water as some of the older prototypes.
According to him, this has been a problem for them “from the beginning.” If you want more water, don’t try to get bigger.
Species considerations have always limited water deliveries through the delta, and that will not alter under this strategy. Water quality will improve.
More saline water is expected to enter the Sacramento-San Joaquin estuary as climate change progresses, putting public water supplies in Contra Costa County and Southern California at risk. Because federal water contractors have refused to help finance the tunnel project despite the dangers they face, it is believed that the supply of federal water will be threatened.
“The new plan shows clearly how Newsom and his California Department of Water Resources officials want to proceed,” said Obegi from the Natural Resources Defense Council.” According to him, the administration hasn’t adequately studied other choices, such as conservation and raising the price of environmental advantages, throughout the process.
“It’s incredibly alarming that they’re not even looking at any alternatives, including more protective operating guidelines and leaving more water for the environment,” he stated.
Other experts believe that California can benefit from large and erratic floods.
According to Public Policy Institute of California senior fellow Jeffrey Mount, “we’ve had three extraordinarily wet years in the last 12 years. And in those years, the delta and San Francisco Bay received the vast majority of the water.”
Taking more water would have had little impact on the ecosystem, even if it was done to the fullest extent possible, according to him. As far as the Golden Gate Bridge, “there would still be pure water.”
This isn’t the first time these arguments have been made, but California has yet to adopt them. Since Pat Brown, Jerry Brown’s father, was governor, the state has investigated a variety of plans for rerouting delta water. Newsom’s proposal is the most recent.
If Newsom is re-elected, he will step down from office at the end of the year 2026. If all goes well, this plan may not begin building for two years, provided it gets the necessary permissions and withstands legal challenges.