Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Department of Water Resources recently released a revised environmental document detailing an updated approach for the California WaterFix – the plan to improve the statewide water distribution system that supplies water to two-thirds of California’s homes, farms and businesses.
The California Small Business Association supports the plan because the availability of a reliable water supply is of great importance to all of our members. A legislative select committee is holding a hearing Tuesday on the plan.
Some opponents have claimed the economics of the revised approach don’t pan out. But those arguments fall short on the math, and fail to account for the severe economic consequences of inaction.
Here are some important facts:
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▪ Cost of inaction. Claims that the revised approach does not provide the same 50-year assurances as previous versions fail to account for the real threat – the cost of the status quo and a guaranteed future of diminishing water supplies if we fail to act. According to economist David Sunding, without a new conveyance system, if wildlife agencies impose continued or even greater flow restrictions to protect fish, we could lose more than 1 million acre-feet of water supply a year. That loss would trigger severe cutbacks to farms and cities, and widespread economic pain in the tens of billions of dollars. Sunding’s analysis suggests that the reliability offered by the California WaterFix far exceeds the actual $15 billion project cost.
▪ Economics of a catastrophic failure. According to an analysis by leading UC Davis professors, the old dirt levees that protect water supplies have a 64 percent probability of collapse or catastrophic failure in the next 50 years. The Department of Water Resources analyzed the economic consequences of multiple levees failing should a large earthquake occur. Water exports would be cut off for months, if not years. The total cost of disruption to our water system would cost the economy $30 billion to $40 billion over five years – more than twice the total construction costs of the pipelines.
▪ Improved water flows. The dual tunnels would produce an average annual yield of 4.9 million acre-feet of water. Most important, this plan allows us to move maximum water when supplies are greatest during wet years. According to the current environmental documents, the tunnels would capture at least 1.2 million more acre-feet of water during wet years than the current system would allow under likely conditions to protect fish. This added capacity will help maximize recharge of groundwater and surface storage to help insure against drought.
▪ Affordability compared to alternative water sources. California must adopt an “all of the above” strategy to increase local water supplies. A comparison of various alternatives shows the relative affordability of California WaterFix. The cost of water will be approximately $1,000 per acre-foot for Southern California and less than $500 per acre-foot for Central Valley farms. A recent recycled water project in San Francisco came in at more than $8,000 per acre-foot, while the Poseidon desalination plant in San Diego comes to more than $2,200 per acre-foot.
California WaterFix will cost the average water user $5 per month to fix and secure our state’s most important water delivery system. That’s a pittance compared to the billions of dollars in costs and economic losses should we fail to act.
Betty Jo Toccoli is president of the California Small Business Association.