Delta Can’t Be Restored On a Wink and a Promise

WolkheadshotBy Senator Lois Wolk

Yesterday, Governor Brown and Interior Secretary Salazar committed to the construction of a massive two tunnel project in the Delta, without any certain plan to protect and restore the dying Delta ecosystem.  They ask us to “trust” that sometime over the next 15 years, an extraordinarily complex and scientifically valid plan will emerge, along with the billions of dollars to pay for it.

The revised Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) released last week remains as unaffordable, unworkable and scientifically unjustified as the previous plan that took six years of effort and $150 million to produce.

The proposed plan stakes the Delta’s future on a wink and a promise.   Trust us, they say.  We’ll build now, take the water, and figure out how to protect the Delta later.

They are asking Californians for billions in higher water rates and taxpayer borrowing to build the largest, most expensive state-sponsored water project in half a century – before they even know it will work.  Furthermore, pursuant to a package of water bills passed by the Legislature in 2009, the legislature has abandoned all its oversight responsibilities.  An unelected Delta Stewardship Council was given limited review authority, but no budgetary oversight.

Initial estimates for the project’s construction alone are $14 billion.

While it is true that water users have indicated thus far that they will cover these costs through higher water rates, there is no definite funding source for additional costs including Delta restoration, local tax revenue losses, habitat acquisition and maintenance, disruption of the agricultural economy, reduced activity at the two Delta ports of Stockton and West Sacramento, continuing levee repair and Yolo Bypass and Fremont Weir reconstruction and flooding.

Estimates run as high as $50 billion for the total costs of the plan and the greatest share of all these additional costs will be borne by all California taxpayers who will be saddled with increased borrowing and 30-40 years of interest repayments.

And if we can’t afford it, what then?  The regional impacts will remain and the pumps will keep pumping.

We cannot afford to gamble billions of dollars based on a wink and a promise, without guarantees and assurances for the Delta’s ecosystem and Northern California communities.

We have good reason to be skeptical of the arguments made by the water project supporters.  We are told that the project will be science based, even though the supporters have ignored science whenever it failed to confirm their preconceived outcomes.

We are told that California has no choice but to continue to take more Delta water, yet they ignore the vast potential of water recycling, water storage, water conservation and desalination and refuse to accept the statutory requirement to reduce reliance on the Delta.

We are told that there will be no increase in water exports from the Delta, yet the water export levels will return to the levels that decimated Delta fisheries in the early 2000’s, an increase of almost 20 percent over current amounts.

Basically, we are being asked to hand over unprecedented control of our water – and the future Northern California’s ecosystem and communities – to a committee that includes no members of the public, no Delta representation, but does include a seat for water exporters. Neither the voters nor any elected body will have a say in the matter.

The existing BDCP is deeply flawed, but rather than set a new course, the Governor and the Interior Secretary have once again put plumbing before policy. They have asked us to trust them, but we cannot until the BDCP addresses some basic truths.

  • The Delta needs more fresh water, not less.
  • There are smarter, cheaper, more effective and less destructive alternatives that will stabilize the water supply.
  • If you want to stabilize the Delta, you fix its levees, not dig two 150 foot deep tunnels as long as the Panama Canal.
  • Reducing the reliance on the Delta by strengthening regional water recycling, groundwater cleanup and storage is an integral part of the solution.
  • And, most importantly, you cannot restore the Delta without the participation of the people who live in the Delta and the assistance of respected, independent scientists.

When these basic truths are firmly incorporated in plans for the Delta, trust will follow.  It cannot be earned with empty promises or by repackaging old, unpopular ideas.

Restore our trust.  Then we can begin to restore the largest estuary on the west coast of the Western Hemisphere together.

Lois Wolk represents the Fifth Senate District, which includes the cities of Lathrop, Manteca, Stockton, and Tracy in San Joaquin County; Dixon, Fairfield, Suisun City, and Vacaville in Solano County; Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, and Woodland in Yolo County; as well as Isleton, Walnut Grove, and a portion of Elk Grove in Sacramento County.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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4 thoughts on “Delta Can’t Be Restored On a Wink and a Promise”

  1. Steve Hayes

    “….Restore our trust. Then we can begin to restore the largest estuary on the west coast of the Western Hemisphere together.”

    Well said, Senator Wolk!

    Having grown up on the East Coast, I can assure you no one would propose a major alteration equivalent to this within the treasure called Chesapeake Bay. The many states bordering the Bay or lying within the drainage system leading into Chesapeake Bay wouldn’t put up with it!

    The San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (the Bay-Delta)and the entire drainage basin leading into the Bay-Delta(the Bay-Delta System) lie entirely within a single state, the State of California. As a result, we Californians have a unique responsibility and obligation to ensure that major decisions involving the Bay-Delta System should be reasonable, rational, and measured. This proposal is asking Californians to “think locally, and act regionally” and aggravates the north versus south divide within California.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    Excellent article. I am grateful for Lois Wolk and her representation of the welfare of the local community in and around the Delta and protecting the Delta water/watershed. I find it singularly aggravating that this state would be contemplating such a controversial and expensive project as a peripheral canal/tunnel without doing their homework. And Steve Hayes is absolutely correct – there is no way something like this would take place in the Chesapeake Bay…

  3. davisite2

    The delta tunnel that is being planned will change the water rights of those upstream,most especially those with more “junior” rights, reducing these rights while transferring/increasing the water rights to those in Southern California. This breaks new ground in CA water law and is destined to be vigorously challenged in court if it ever moves forward.While Southern CA will be paying for the tunnel with higher rates, The water needed for Delta restoration will be left to Northern CA to sort out with what water is left after the Tunnel takes it to Southern CA. Separating the tunnel project from Delta restoration, leaving the restoration to some unknown future project, allows Southern CA to avoid having to mitigate for the consequences on the Delta restoration project of taking this water away from the Delta, another violation of historic CA water law that those who take the water must mitigate the consequences.

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