Pacific Institute Insights

The Sacramento Bee: Why I’m still confused about the proposed tunnels in the Delta

By Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute President

November 6, 2013

This blog post originally was posted on The Sacramento Bee on November 6, 2013. 

I and my colleagues at the Pacific Institute have worked on California water issues for more than a quarter of a century. It is therefore no surprise that we get asked on a regular basis by friends, journalists and colleagues what we think about the efforts underway to resolve the problems of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and in particular, about the proposed massive tunnel project to divert water from the Sacramento River to the conveyance aqueducts south of the Delta.

The purpose of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan proposals, ostensibly, is to resolve the joint problems of 1. ensuring reliable water suppliessouth of the Delta, and 2. restoring the damaged ecosystems and fisheries damaged by the current design and operation of water infrastructure. These are supposed to be “co-equal” goals. Will the new proposals achieve this? I don’t know what to think, because I cannot get the critical information necessary to make an informed judgment. Here are some questions that should have been answered long ago:

“How much water will this new system take out of the Delta?”

Uh, we don’t know.

Why? Because: “Future scientific studies will identify project yield.” This fact alone should set off alarm bells. The project documents, to the extent you can get detailed information out of them, suggest anywhere from 4.8 million to 5.8 million acre-feet a year would be exported for the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, not including the additional 1.7 million acre-feet or so that comes out of the Delta for Northern California users, and not including water taken out even before it reaches the Delta.

The upper end of this range is what Southern California water contractors think they’ll get and is one of the reasons they’re so anxious for the full-size version of the project to proceed. But that upper range is even more water than recent exports from the Delta, which averaged 5.4 million acre-feet a year from 1995 to 2011. Yet most scientists agree that a key to fixing the ecological problems of the Delta is to take less water out, not more.

“What will this infrastructure, or the water it provides, cost?”

We don’t know.


One Response

  1. Christopher says:

    Hi, I heard you speak on the radio Monday morning, and I wanted to know if anybody has considered the California water shed/ Delta system in regards to its historical flow, pre settlement; The gold Rush. My point being that since we built the first dam and diverted water for the many cities around the SF Bay, we have altered the flow of fresh water; provide for our people, and returned the water as sewage effluent far apart form where we diverted the water. Could we add to this discussion of water management the possibility of linking the Sewage effluent systems of Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties; returning the fresh water back up river to flow out somewhere in the delta; in an effort to push the salt water wedge down river? The More effluent water we divert back to the natural flow of our traditional water shed, the greater the impact we can potentially have on stopping the salt water intrusion; perhaps even reversing it. With this in mind, would the new inlet tunnels have to be built even further up river than the current plan; to prevent drinking water contamination?

    Well, to me it seemed like a simple idea; put the water back as close as you can from where you took it; thereby causing as little disruption in the watershed system.

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