Even as many cities in Southern California push back against the states “sanctuary state” policies, the famously conservative enclave of Orange County soon might help Gov. Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown realize a long-sought dream:
A pair of tunnels that will run beneath the central Delta, ferrying more-reliable water to the states parched southern region even as they protect wildlife.
Considered dead as dust just days ago, Browns water dream wont come cheap — an estimated $16.7 billion for both tunnels. And a disproportionate share of the project financing — $10.8 billion, or nearly 65 percent of the total — would come from the gargantuan Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies 19 million people, or nearly half the state.
That could, in a worst-case scenario, translate into an extra $5 a month for each SoCal household that gets imported water, according to Metropolitan.
On Tuesday, April 10, a proposal to raise money for the project goes to Metropolitans unwieldy 38-member board of directors.
How will they vote? Its a nail-biter.
Los Angeles and San Diego are unified in their disdain of the twin-tunnel project, and have vowed to vote against it.
Metropolitans own staff is recommending against it, favoring instead a one-tunnel option that could be augmented later. A single tunnel would cost Metropolitan just $5.2 billion of an $11.1 billion total, and, in a worst-case scenario, raise water bills just $2.40 per month.
This leaves the water leaders of Orange and Ventura county scrambling to pull together the votes to make the twin tunnels a reality and, in a perhaps unlikely alliance, help the governor realize his dream.
“When the governor is right on an issue, I will say hes right,” said Brett Barbre, who represents the Municipal Water District of Orange County on Metropolitans board.
“It is more fiscally sound and cost-effective to do it all at once,” Barbre said.
“From the environmental standpoint, its very positive. You deal with a lot of the fisheries issues, you dont have pumping restrictions, you can pull water from either end of Delta depending on flows and need. It gives you more flexibility,” Barbre explained. “For the long-term health of the Delta, this is the best alternative.”
Critics argue that the twin-tunnel plan would deliver too little extra water to Southern California for too much money. They also say it wont do enough to help the struggling ecology of the Delta area, and sock water customers with bigger bills.
“MWDs interests are the interests of Californias financial elite, with Californias middle and working classes paying the price,” said Restore the Delta executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla in a statement.
Rather than investing in the most expensive water project in California history and moving water from far reaches, critics add, water officials should shore up aging existing infrastructure at the local level. Critics plan a protest and press conference at Metropolitans office in Los Angeles Tuesday morning.
What is it?[hhmc]
The California Water Fix, as its now called, was proposed by Gov. Brown and the California Department of Water Resources in 2009, when they pitched it as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
It would sink two tremendous tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to carry fresh water from the Sacramento River to intake stations that would funnel the water to farms and cities to the south. Its not an unprecedented engineering trick. Similar tunnels include the “Big Dig” that runs beneath Boston and the “Chunnel,” under the English Channel that connects England and France.
The system could divert up to 9,000 cubic feet-per-second from the Sacramento River and capture rain water that currently flows to the ocean, planners say.
“Modernizing and improving Californias water system are essential to ensure reliable delivery of the states water supplies,” says Metropolitans report on the project. “The Deltas ecosystem and 1,100 miles of levees are increasingly vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, saltwater intrusion, climate change and environmental degradation….
“California WaterFix is intended to address these problems and improve both the reliability and quality of exports from the Delta,” Metropolitan said.
While covering the additional costs would “present some financial risk to Metropolitan” at first, its likely that “there will be a flurry of buyers for the water” down the road, said a statement from the Municipal Water District of Orange County.
On the other side, conjuring “Chinatown,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the city is at a “Mulholland moment.”
“Im often asked if we have enough water in Los Angeles for our future. And I always answer that we have plenty of water,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Daily News.
“When people learn that we discard 60 percent of our equivalent daily water use in treated wastewater into the ocean, or that 50 percent of our water usage goes to landscaping, residents understand that the issue is not whether we have enough water — but rather whether we are managing, reusing, and recycling our water efficiently.”
Projects like the Delta tunnels run the risk of siphoning off ratepayer dollars and endangering the fragile Delta ecosystem, he said. “We will never be able to solve our water needs if we have tunnel vision.”
Such sentiments make some in water world roll their eyes.
“There are only a couple of things you cant live without, and water is one of them,” said Peer Swan, long-time board member for the Irvine Ranch Water District. “Long-term, this is really the only game in town. Its far more important than bullet trains, and much cheaper.”