Public water agencies throughout California are looking to spend billions of dollars in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to address a fundamental physical reality: The existing water system in the southern Delta poses an intractable environmental problem. The only solution is to construct a new, sufficiently sized conveyance system to move water supplies.
State and federal agencies have been working toward a solution for 10 years. Occasionally, one group or another has suggested dramatically constricting the water system by downsizing its capacity.
If there was an elusive “grand compromise” as recently suggested by the Public Policy Institute of California that captured sufficient supplies and made more stakeholders happy, it would have been found by now (“A grand compromise for the Delta outlines”; Forum, Dec. 4). The plan known as California WaterFix is actually the delicate compromise between a project that can do the job and one that wildlife agencies believe can receive regulatory approval.
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California WaterFix is proposing to construct two tunnels and three intakes in the northern Delta, with a combined capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second – just over half the capacity of existing facilities. PPIC proposes we cut the capacity in half yet again with a single tunnel.
California’s weather and the resulting water flows are flashy. Most of our precipitation occurs in a handful of days. The future water system will either safely capture water when it is available or miss opportunity after opportunity, leaving the state economy at grave risk of water shortages.
PPIC’s downsizing of the system would not provide the water supply and environmental benefits California needs. A single pipeline with limited capacity leaves too much water on the table. We would continue to have to rely too heavily on the south Delta pumps, which reverse natural river flows, hurt water quality and ultimately restrict water supplies. Public water agencies cannot be expected to invest billions in a non-solution.
WaterFix is the “compromise plan.” Its size was reduced by 40 percent many years ago from the original preferred proposal by water agencies, and it is the only plan supported by hundreds of water agencies, public safety, business, labor, environmental, civil rights and agriculture organizations.
Terry Erlewine is the general manager of the State Water Contractors. Contact him at Terlewine@swc.org.