Gov. Jerry Brown and major water interests from Southern California and the Central Valley are trying to sell a proposal to the residents of Sacramento and other Delta communities to allow the construction of twin underground tunnels costing $25 billion to siphon water from the Sacramento River and deliver it to farms and cities to the south. We should not be fooled into thinking that the Sacramento region will gain from this preordained proposal.
The days when the unquenchable south saw the north as a bottomless chalice of water are over. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is predicted to shrink dramatically because of global climate change, resulting in significantly less controlled runoff. Most of the runoff will come in the winter as rainfall, and much less from diminishing snowmelt in spring and summer. As a result, our ability to retain and manage our supply of water will be much more limited. The federal government has already declared a large portion of the state a drought disaster area due to years of reduced rainfall.
Furthermore, the tunnel plan’s preliminary environmental impact report indicates that the Folsom reservoir will be drained precariously low in one out of every 10 years in a matter of decades. The low level of water in the reservoir would prevent water from flowing through outlets in its dam and create what’s called a dead pool. If this were to happen, Sacramento could have no way to access its water rights in the American River. Despite the scientific modeling showing that the tunnels could worsen the dead-pool effect, the governor’s plan has nothing in it to address this specific threat to the region’s water supply.
We’ve already begun to prepare for the reduced reliability of water flow. The city of Sacramento has reduced water consumption by 22 percent since 2000 and will have invested $350 million to enhance water efficiency by 2025. It would be patently unfair for us to have worked so hard to conserve, only to see our water savings literally sucked down the drain by the sprawling communities of Southern California and the mega-farms in the Central Valley.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the largest Pacific Coast estuary in the Americas. The Delta is home to numerous fish and bird species and more than a half-million people and is the primary source of California’s freshwater supply. Fish as well as farmers depend on the natural flow of the Delta. Constructing these tunnels threatens to upset the delicate local ecosystem and displace generations of Delta farmers and residents.
The flimsy promise of protecting the Delta from a hypothetical levee-threatening earthquake and reducing impact on fish populations by establishing new pumps farther north are relatively small and unconvincing concessions to Sacramento and other Delta communities in relation to the massive loss of water resulting from the increased exports to the south.
The bottom line is that the Central Valley and Southern California will get our water while we get virtually nothing. Until this changes, I am proud to be part of the coalition of family farmers, Indian tribes, Delta residents, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, conservationists, environmental justice advocates and fellow elected officials including Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli who are at the forefront of opposing this titanic wrongheaded idea.
Darrell Fong is a member of the Sacramento City Council and serves as an alternate on the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency.