Jane Wagner-Tyack

Another View: Delta tunnel project truly can drain north state

Published: Sunday, Mar. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2E
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013 - 7:03 am

In Stuart Leavenworth's "Scope and impact of Delta twin tunnels is starting to hit home" (Forum, March 17), we were happy to see his growing concern regarding the extreme damage that will be done to Delta communities if the tunnels are built. His descriptions of the extraordinary impact of all the "tunnel muck" these tunnels will generate should give everyone pause.

We also applaud his recognition of the unprecedented financial costs associated with the project, coupled with the fact that it has not been proven that the project will restore native salmon populations.

However, Leavenworth's assessment that this project will not drain Northern California is based on a misinterpretation of the facts. The export system suffers from a permanent shortage resulting from the state's failure to develop 5 million acre-feet of water per year on which promises of supply were originally based. For decades, exporters have been taking water the system was never intended to provide, and they've been taking even more in very dry years. Even the minimum number of acre-feet the tunnels will deliver is several million acre-feet more than the system can provide without destroying both the ecosystem and agriculture in the Delta region.

As California's normal cycle of droughts meets up with changes in timing and amount of snowmelt, the gap will grow between what water users in other parts of California have come to expect and what the Delta and its watersheds can deliver. Export interests do indeed have the ability and the will to "suck Northern California dry" and drive Sacramento Valley irrigators to further draw down their shrinking groundwater supplies.

Endangered Species Act restrictions on pumping are vital, but if those restrictions alone could protect fish from extinction, we wouldn't have seen the plunges in fish populations we have seen in the last decade. The only answer for fish is more fresh water, and that is the one answer that tunnel proponents will never consider.

Water users around the state can have a more reliable supply of water – and the Delta ecosystem can recover – if we route fresh water through the Delta, reinforce Delta levees, retire toxic lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and encourage regional self-sufficiency throughout California. And those solutions will cost ratepayers and taxpayers far less than the peripheral tunnels.

Jane Wagner-Tyack, of Stockton, is policy analyst for Restore the Delta. Reach her at jane@restorethedelta.org.

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