$50 Billion Scheme Lets West Side San Joaquin Valley Growers Control More Water

Posted on 31 July 2012

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By Barbara Barigan-Parrilla
Restore the Delta

Restore the Delta, local, state and federal elected officials, the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, the Planning and Conservation League, the Environmental Water Caucus, Friend of the River, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and a dozen other groups launched their campaign against the “Peripheral Tunnels” with a rally at the State Capitol on July 25. The “fatal flaws” of the tunnels would damage water, the environment, fish, and farming and impose billions of dollars of increases on water ratepayers.

We oppose the rush to build a project that would exterminate salmon runs, destroy sustainable family farms and saddle taxpayers with tens of billions in debt, mainly to benefit a small number of huge corporate agribusinesses on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

This proposal is fatally-flawed. For example, the failure to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal, with costs that would fall on water ratepayers. The Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power is already projecting increased rates for decreased water consumption.  How much will rates need to increase if this project moves forward?

This project would cost billions upon billions of dollars to give ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidized water to corporate agriculture and real estate developers to make millions upon millions in profits.  It is the ultimate fleecing of ratepayers and taxpayers. The special interests argue this is the only way to secure reliable water for southern California. This is false. California will not go dry without these tunnels.  This is a fallacy that those moneyed special interests use to try and create an artificial rift between the north and south. There are no guarantees that southern California residents will receive more water.

Also, Californians need to know upfront what the impacts of the project are and how they are going to mitigate these impacts to actually improve conditions for fish. The plan states that some species, like the winter Chinook salmon, would be harmed by the construction of the tunnels. Their own studies show there could be species decline and extinction, and the project could make things worse than not doing anything at all.

The proposal takes a build it now, figure it out later approach. But after billions are spent building new tunnels, the pressure would be overwhelming to maximize water exports no matter the consequences on the fish.

History clearly shows those who covet salmon water in California will take as much of it as they can get away with. They’ve done it time and again.  They’ve been reined in a bit since pumping restrictions designed to keep salmon and other fish from going extinct went into effect starting in late 2008. The agribusinesses have been in court ever since trying to get these pumping restrictions thrown out. Thankfully, no court has yet granted their wish but they clearly would crank the pumps as high as they’d go if allowed.  Left unchecked, this is what they did between the year 2000 and 2006 when they set all time high pumping records.

Two-thirds of Delta water exports go to support 0.3-0.4% of the California population and economy (GDP) on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.  Less than a third goes to areas representing two-thirds of the state’s population and economy. Why would anyone choose to sacrifice family farms on prime farmland in the Delta in order to send subsidized water to grow subsidized crops on the impaired soils of west side plantations, whose owners live in Pacific Heights and Beverly Hills?

Why would we use two and a half times the water to grow an almond in the west side of the Valley than is required to grow an almond in Butte County? The ‘tunnels’ represent more than simply a transfer of good quality water around the Delta.  They also represent a massive transfer of wealth from north to south.

The common people will pay for the tunnels and a few people will make millions. It will turn a once pristine Delta waterway into a sewer pipe. It will be bad for the fish, the ocean and the people of California.


By Barbara Barigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. Restore the Delta is a 7000-member grassroots organization committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. Restore the Delta works to improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Knowing good people on both sides of this issue, I am trying to approach it with an open mind. Her article is a powerful indictment against the tunnels. How can the proponents justify this massive transfer of wealth, let alone the real, if uncertain, threat to key fisheries?

Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!