The emperor has no clothes.
Or more precisely, the Twin Tunnels have no water.
As bizarre as it may sound, self-proclaimed state water gurus are seven years and some $300 million of your tax dollars into planning for arguably the largest environmental modification project ever undertaken in California involving water and they have yet to secure a key commitment from the Bureau of Reclamation.
The Bureau is not a minor player in California’s water wars.
They are the biggest.
The Bureau’s Central Valley Project has the capability of storing 13 million acre feet of water and in an average year delivers 7.4 million acre feet of water. Compare that to the State Water Project with its combined storage of 5.7 million acre feet that delivers of 2.4 million acre feet in an average year.
Keep in mind two thorny little caveats. The Bureau signed contracts that over promised water deliveries for dams from Friant to New Melones. On the Stanislaus River watershed, government agencies have committed 391 percent more water than they can deliver in any given year.
The State Water Project is more of the same. In fact the San Joaquin River has promised water rights that are 891 percent higher than can actually be delivered.
Then there is the issue of California’s dynamic duo of dams —the massive Shasta Lake and its mighty cousin Trinity Lake. While the State Water project’s Oroville Lake would have a lot of its water diverted into the proposed tunnels the lion’s share would come from the Bureau.
The water flowing down the Sacramento River from Shasta supports hundreds of miles of river ecological systems. Imagine what would happen if you put that water all in a pipe from Redding all the way to Tracy.
It is no different than what the state wants to do with water between a point south of Sacramento to Tracy where the California Aqueduct starts.
Obviously the state needs to replace the water that tunnel advocates want to run under the Delta and ship south to Los Angeles and large southern San Joaquin Valley corporate farms to avoid turning the Delta in a brackish cesspool.
The only player of consequence that can fill that need is the Bureau.
And so far, the Bureau hasn’t said “yea” or “nay.”
One would think you’d have your ducks in order before going off on a $22 billion tangent (or $65 billion or so with financing). But remember these are the same folks cut from the bureaucratic fabric of Sacramento that are shredding the environmental review process and funding logic to build the high speed train to nowhere.
The guiding principle is that they are right so they can proceed, spend, and worry about the details of making it work after they build it.
Proceeding with even with the environmental documents for the Twin Tunnels when you haven’t secured water commitments is akin to booking an airline flight to Fiji during the peak tourist season and not worrying about room reservations until you get there. The odds are you will have spent a lot of money and you won’t get a room or else you will have to settle for some hovel that isn’t exactly the vacation in paradise you promised yourself.
The Twin Tunnel snake oil salesmen have contended from Day One the removal of a significant amount of water by diverting it into tunnels will not damage the ecological systems or devastate regional farming.
The assumption, of course, was that the water would be replaced with fresh water from elsewhere. For all practical purposes that “elsewhere” is the Bureau.
Besides the fact the state doesn’t have the water to make the Twin Tunnels work, the mega-billion dollar boondoggle won’t create a drop of additional water for urban, farming or environmental use.
And the inconvenient lie that the tunnels are necessary in case major earthquakes collapse Delta levees and cutoff water supplies to urban areas is a theory and that’s it.
Not only is the mystery Delta fault once referenced can’t be pinned down but major shakers from 1906 on have failed to collapse a single levee in the Delta even though they are considered among some of the nation’s most fragile.
Upgrading the levees would still protect Los Angeles and large corporate farming water supplies, it would protect the environment, and it would protect Delta farming.
But those aren’t the true objectives of the cottage industry of high-paid bureaucratic agencies spawned by the Twin Tunnel movement.
By bypassing the Delta, Los Angeles gets the same favored treatment that San Francisco does with its century-old Delta bypass for Tuolumne water from Hetch Hetchy that is piped under the valley floor. The pipe system takes water from the Tuolumne River that would have flowed into the Delta and now goes directly to San Francisco off the table when it comes to court decisions involving water and the environment in the Delta. San Francisco’s supply is also unscathed by government imposed delivery cutbacks triggered by droughts.
The Twin Tunnels essentially make Los Angeles and large corporate farms relatively drought proof at the expense of the rest of California.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.