Delta tunnels won’t help on climate change

Crews work in February to fix a portion of a levee that collapsed on Tyler Island in the Delta.
Crews work in February to fix a portion of a levee that collapsed on Tyler Island in the Delta. Special to The Bee

Dan Morain suggests the proposed Delta tunnels offer a solution for managing California’s water in our changing climate. (“Brown sends a message on the Delta tunnels,” Insight, June 1).

This argument misses the mark. The engineering report for the California WaterFix project indicates that the proposed new intakes at the town of Hood are being designed for 18 inches of sea level rise, yet the Delta Stewardship Council indicates that we should be planning for 55 inches of sea level rise. The $17 billion tunnels will likely become a stranded asset.

The Tracy pumps will be used only about 52 percent of the time because flows through the Delta will be too low. And because there is no plan to screen the existing pumps, large fish kills will continue at the Tracy pumps.

Also, construction of the tunnels will cause a net loss of 15,000 acres of wetlands within the estuary. If Delta fisheries and wildlife are going to survive in a changing climate, more water will need to flow through the estuary, not less.

A recent UCLA study found that the Sierra snowpack will decrease by about 30 percent by the end of the century. But the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California recently told a Bay-Delta committee that water sales will be used to finance the $17 billion.

How can Metropolitan or any other water district secure financing when less water will be available for sale? University of the Pacific economist Jeff Michael has run the numbers and says the tunnels cannot be built without a taxpayer subsidy.

Four million people live in Delta counties. The Delta hosts power and natural gas lines, highways, railroads and other key infrastructure. Levees will need to be raised to mitigate for sea level rise even if the tunnels are built. The Delta cannot be sacrificed.

To really prepare for climate change, let’s spend that $17 billion to build more projects like the ones featured in our California Sustainable Water Plan.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla is executive director of Restore the Delta. She can be contacted at