Let the Water Wars begin

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

Banks Pumping Plant looking out into the Sacramento River Detla (photo: Aquafornia/Flickr)

Let the water war begin and in California it will most certainly be a heavyweight bout because water has, and always will be, a hot button issue.

California Governor Jerry Brown announced Wednesday his new water proposal called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

You can expect blows to be thrown in this so-called “water war” because not everyone is rushing to support his plan.

Governor Brown, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar by his side, detailed the proposal during a news briefing today, in Sacramento, a plan which essentially will carry water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farmland and cities.

Water is such a chronic issue in California that the California Economic Summit made it one of its signature initiatives.

 “A healthy Delta ecosystem and a reliable water supply are profoundly important to California’s future,” said Governor Brown.

“This proposal balances the concerns of those who live and work on the Delta, those who rely on it for water; those who appreciate its beauty, its fish, its waterfowl and wildlife.”

Here’s the gist of it:

  • Build a $14 billion pair of 35-mile long tunnels, 33 feet in diameter, under the Delta, that would carry fresh water from the Sacramento River and deliver it to the pumps south of Tracy, reducing the need for water contractors to pump water from the estuary, directly killing fish and creating unnatural flow patterns;
  • It would deliver Delta water to 25 million Californians, from the Bay Area to San Diego;
  • The tunnels would irrigate three million acres of farmland, and would preserve one of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta;
  • The proposal calls for the construction of water intake facilities with a total capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second, down from an earlier proposal of 15,000 cubic feet per second;
  • The operations would be phased in over several years and a conveyance designed to use gravity flow to maximize energy efficiency and to minimize environmental impact.

“As broken and outdated as California’s water system is, we are also closer than ever to forging a lasting and sustainable solution that strengthens California’s water security and restores the health of the Delta,” said Secretary Salazar.

“With California’s water system at constant risk of failure, nobody can afford the dangers or costs of inaction.”

But is this plan truly beneficial? Environmentalists, farmers, fishermen and some northern California lawmakers, overwhelmingly say “no.” In fact, they believe this project could destroy an already fragile Delta ecosystem. 

State officials haven’t detailed exactly how much water would be diverted through the tunnels or how habitat restoration and decreased flows would affect the fish. Answers, most likely, will come during scientific studies over the next 10-15 years.

Opponents held a rally outside the Capitol’s steps hours after the governor’s announcement.

“Brown is refusing to specify exactly how much water would be diverted,” Jonas Minton of the Planning and Conservation League told KCRA 3 News.

“His scheme would leave the critical decision to those who would sell off the public’s water and unnamed governmental bureaucrats,” said Minton.

Construction on this project would start in 2017, with a completion date sometime in 2026.

The Summit’s Action Team is working on plans to implement interim measures that increase through Delta conveyance, reduces reliance on the Delta to meet future needs and are consistent with a long term comprehensive plan. 

Mario Santoyo is a member of the action team. He’s also the assistant general manager of the Friant Water Authority and executive director of the Latino Water Coalition.

He believes the governor’s plan is a “great first step in moving forward with achieving the co-equal goals.”

But, Santoyo said, “the real issue in making this project real will depend on the total annual flows that will be made available thru the project. If this project starts with no meaningfully increase in supply to the Central Valley’s Farmers then any appetite to help pay the 14 billion price tag will quickly disappear and so will the project. Unfortunately, the current operational plan appears to start with low flows and will maybe go up with time. Project is dead if this plan is not adjusted. Farmers just can not pay several hundreds of dollars per acre foot and not have a guarantee that their supply will increase from today’s level.”

He thinks if the project is ironed out a bit more, this will help everyone, not just the agricultural community. 

“The dual conveyance project design is consistent in addressing concerns of the Delta interest. Without this design it would been highly unlikely to have ever moved forward. Having said this, there are still major issues to over come to get any meaningful Delta interest support.”

You can be sure we will monitor this story as it develops.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza