Radio show: Delta tunnel project under scrutiny as hearings begin
John Laird, Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, and Jay Lund discuss the California Water Fix on KQED’s Forum
Last week, KQED Radio’s Forum tackled the topic of the California Water Fix project (aka the Delta tunnels) with guests John Laird, Secretary of Natural Resources; Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta; and Jay Lund, UC Davis, Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences and adjunct fellow at the PPIC Water Center. The show was hosted by Michael Krasny.
Here’s what they had to say.
“Hearings are underway on the massive public works project to build twin 35-mile long and 40 feet in diameter water tunnels below the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in order to pump fresh water away from the Delta to buyers in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley,” began host Michael Krasny. “Public opinion remains strongly divided and we’ll take up the debate in this forum hour.”
“Let me begin with John Laird. John Laird is Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, and we’re talking about the hearings. I know you were there, and I’d like to hear what you observed, but first, for the benefit of listeners who may be unfamiliar with this massive public works project under the title of California Water Fix, can you give us kind of a brief outline of what we’re talking about here, so people can understand broadly what it is?”
“Yes, and let me make two points with it,” answered Secretary John Laird. “First, when the State Water Project was constructed in the 1960s, it was focused around pumps at Tracy at the base of the Delta, and hooked it into various aqueducts to distribute the water. Those pumps reverse flows in the streams there, draw fish into the south Delta where they don’t belong, and also doesn’t allow for taking water in excessive flows to store for dry years. What is proposed in the project is changing where the intakes are; there are three intakes in the Sacramento River to the north, and move the water to the Tracy pumps, and then into the distribution system, and so it’s basically a proposal to do that. And the hearings are to ground truth that proposal and see how it would actually operate.”
“The one other thing I just wanted to say for starters,” Mr. Laird continued. “You set up the discussion by saying, moving water to the San Joaquin Valley and to Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area in a major way depends on this water as well, and we can talk about that … “
“I’m glad you mentioned that because we’re talking about 40% of the water from 50% of the water that out of Santa Clara in the South Bay, so there is a great deal effect here in Northern California, too,” said Mr. Krasny. “Let me ask you about the hearings themselves, because a couple years ago, the EPA said this project could cause more harm. There was a preliminary draft that I know was responded to on some level, but where are we now, just in terms of where we’ve moved forward from that EPA report?”
“The whole environmental impact report comment period was reopened after that, and additional comments were taken,” said Mr. Laird. “Now this process really ground truths how it would actually operate and takes what everybody on the show will say in differing opinions, and checks them out and comes up with a ruling about what really is needed in the Delta, consistent with how this project would operate. Even though the project environmental impact report was amended and there are additional comments, and it still can be changed up until the point that a permit is issued, and this process will really guide that in a major way. People are looking to decide whether to fund it based on what the project turns out to be, based on this how this process ground truths all the differing views and differing facts that are on the table.”
“I do want to talk with you and our other guests about funding as well, but I think I want to hear more about the project from you,” said Mr. Krasny. “Just so people can get a real understanding of what we’re talking about with these twin tunnels, 35-miles long, 40-feet in diameter, they are going to be below the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta, and the real purpose is to pump fresh water away from the Delta?”
“It’s just changing the point of diversion, and the point of diversion would be thirty miles to the north of where it is now,” said Mr. Laird. “In the past there was the peripheral canal proposal that the people voted down in 1982; this is 40% the size of that, and in order to do less disturbance, it’s done as tunnels that will be more seismically safe. It is such outmoded technology in the pumps in the Delta that were constructed basically in the 1960s; it is really difficult to fish screen in a successful way as it pulls the fish down there; in the diversions that are to the north, you can screen in a modern way, in a different way, not draw the fish so they have to be trucked back, which happens now from the south Delta, to the extent that you can capture them.”
“This also provides resiliency, not just against seismic issues, but also sea level rise,” continued Mr. Laird. “I chair the Ocean Protection Council; we have science that the median for California at the end of the century could be 5 ½ feet of sea level rise. If you look at just one foot of sea level rise to the Delta, it’s phenomenal and it has these impacts that we really need to try to protect against as we move forward.”
“Governor Brown has brought in Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior,” said Mr. Krasny. “He has been strongly in favor of this project. He’s talked about increasing water availability and protecting the ecosystem. There is another major obstacle I’d like to talk with you about, and that is the Endangered Species Act. You need a declaration from the Obama Administration, do we not?”
“Yes, … it’s really a program on how in their view, a project would operate with regard to endangered species, and it comes from two places: it’s really the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is in the Department of Commerce and NOAA, and it is the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in the Department of the Interior,” said Mr. Laird. “There are also issues with state agencies, but if you really look overall, it will come up regularly in this discussion. There are about five agencies that interact with this in a major way, and it’s three fish agencies, one state, two federal; and it’s the Bureau of Reclamation, water supply on the federal side, and it’s Department of Water Resources on the state side.”
“Could you talk for a moment about capturing water?,” said Mr. Krasny. “I know you feel we missed a lot because of outdated pumping system that has to be in some ways, redone in effect; we need to maximize storage, don’t we?”
“Yes, and right now, with the existing system, you can’t reach out and take the water that is in excess of flows and excess of storms,” said Mr. Laird. “For example, since the first of the year, this year, when it started to rain again in the tributary areas of the Delta, by March or April, 500,000 acre-feet of water had flowed by after we did what we had to do to protect the environment under the biological opinions and after we dealt with what we might need for water supply. It’s those excessive flows, because as hard as it is to believe, it’s down to California’s water resiliency, depending on 5 or 6 big storms a year. If they happen, we sort of make it; if they don’t, we don’t. We saw what happened in the drought, and we don’t have the ability to take that extra water to store for the dry years right now, because of the way the system is configured.”
Krasny then turns to Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “It’s not only the State Water Board hearings that I guess we could describe as a hurdle. This project has to get through reviews by local, state, federal agencies as well as satisfied the Endangered Species Act. I want to also mention one other thing and get your take on this. There’s a Proposition 53 that will be on the November ballot, the so-called No Blank Checks initiative, and that figures into this as well. It was put on the ballot pretty much, or funded to a great degree by a Stockton businessman by the name of Dean Cortopassi, and it’s headed towards the November ballot. This would be a threat to the whole project, wouldn’t it?”
“Actually, Proposition 53 is not our initiative,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parilla. “Restore the Delta and the people of the Delta haven’t taken a position on it because it is more than the Delta tunnels. We support legislation … “
“It also involves Fast Track, too,” interjects Mr. Krasny. “Forgive me, I should spell this out for listeners because I think it’s important. It would mean in effect that anything over $2 billion, any project over $2 billion would have to have complete public support, that is all the citizens would have to vote in favor of it.”
“We don’t support the initiative and we have no position on it,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “We support legislation for a straight out vote on the tunnels only, and honestly, we actually see the most important battle presently as what is happening at the State Water Resources Control Board. I think ground truthing is a very unusual way to describe these proceedings. The burden of proof is on the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation to show that no Delta water users or landowners will be harmed by this change in point of diversion. We believe it is absurd to think that a project which will remove half of the fresh water from entering the estuary on the Sacramento River side will improve water quality for fisheries or Delta farms or for local drinking water supplies. DWR and the Bureau have a 40-year track record of destroying 90% of our fisheries.”
“As Secretary Laird is talking about an antiquated system that isn’t capturing excess flows, he forgot to mention that we have a problem where we have overpumped the system of nearly 40 years,” continued Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “We’ve had this 90% decline in fisheries, and when you go through the details in the Environmental Impact Report for the project, which show that we would create new reverse flows, and that the existing pumps at the south end of the Delta would still be in use 52% of the time unscreened, and that we would have extremely degraded water quality in the Delta for drinking water, for farming, for recreation, and fisheries.”
“So it’s your position that the tunnels will not only do harm where the Delta is concerned, but diminish the fish population as well?,” asked Mr. Krasny.
“It will finish off the last 10% that we have left that hasn’t been destroyed from years of overpumping,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “It will also harm the ecosystem for the San Francisco Bay. Delta flows keep the San Francisco Bay healthy.”
“What kind of fish are we talking about, mainly?,” asked Mr. Krasny.
“We’re talking about several runs of chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, sturgeon, steelhead, shad – literally every fishery in the Delta does worse with the Delta tunnels proposed project,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla.
“What else do you have in the way of concerns?,” said Mr. Krasny. “You’ve certainly expressed right off the top major concerns; in addition to that, are there other things that your group has brought into public attention and want to bring now to the table here?”
“When you take out that much water from the Sacramento River, you’re going to end up with increased polluted water from flows that flow into the Delta and Bay from the San Joaquin River,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “We will see unhealthy increases in salt, selenium, boron, bromides, and because there will be warmer water and less flow throughout the Delta, a propensity for an increase in toxic algal blooms that create bacteria that can kill fish, wildlife, and people.”
“I want to Jay Lund in this, but first, Secretary Laird, could you respond to some of the concerns that have been expressed by Barbara Barrigan-Parilla?,” said Mr. Krasny.
“I think when I said ground truth, the point was just made,” said Mr. Laird. “Because yes, there is a view that through all the work, this will not be harmful, and there is a desire to prove it, but those things that were just said will be truthed out in this. For 40 years, yes there’s been pumping, but it’s not been static, and what happened is that there have been additional environmental protections that were enacted along the way. The amount of pumping from the first decades has dropped a bunch; the proposal would in effect only take what happens now in dry years or in average years, although with climate change, what an average year is maybe changing. There’s no difference in the take; it’s just trying to take it in a way that is more protective and deals with fish and protects against salinity and all these things, and without taking an hour to explain it, we believe that’s been demonstrated. Those are the facts that will be debated in the process.”
“Let me ask you, Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, what kind of solution do you want for the Delta?,” asked Mr. Krasny. “There’s been massive habitat loss for endangered salmon. What kind of restoration do you want to see?”
“We have a four point plan at Restore the Delta,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “First and foremost, we’ve never been against sharing water; we want the Delta Reform Act to be upheld in California where reliance on Delta water is reduced, and you do that by creating regional self sufficiency projects throughout the state so that people aren’t so dependent on exports from the Delta. We want to see levees upgraded to protect the 4 million people who live in the Delta. People keep talking about the tunnels as the solution for sea level rise, but the truth is, the tunnels aren’t going to protect the 4 million people who live behind the levees, and if we do not mitigate for sea level rise properly starting from the San Francisco Bay, all the way into the Delta, science is showing us that at the extreme end of sea level rise, the new intakes will be under salt water, so it doesn’t solve that problem either.”
“Let me bring Jay Lund into this … Maybe you can help enlighten our listeners as to what your predicament is. What do you see on the positive side, what do you see on the negative?”
“I think we have to step back and realize that the Delta is not a very natural place today and it hasn’t been for 150 years,” said Jay Lund. “It began as a product of sea level rise. The Delta was not a Delta; it was mere confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers up until about 6000 years ago, but sea level rise slowly moved the Delta from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers upstream and into a drowned confluence of where it is today.”
“We should mention that there are many in the Delta who are vowing to fight,” said Mr. Krasny. “There’s still no support from many of the water agencies as well … “
“I think that’s true,” said Mr. Lund. “There are a lot of realistic concerns, and some of them have been expressed on both sides for the water supply in the long term, and for the Delta residents and the ecosystem, but I think we have to understand that this is a very unnatural system and it’s very precarious now in terms of water supply, in terms of the native fish, and in terms of the landscape being protected by the Delta levees and the water quality. It really takes a comprehensive view to look at all these things together with strategic thinking. There’s a lot of opposition because we have a very fragmented governance for the Delta, which in many ways has been very accountable and responsive, but it makes it very difficult to make strategic decisions.”
“I mentioned costs before too,” said Mr. Krasny. “There’s a big brouhaha and polarization over where the money is going to come from. There’s the Restore the Delta group and the Zone 7, and we’re talking about whether property tax money ought to be involved to fund the tunnels, and just where the revenue ought to come from, but I want to get back to the sense of whether we’re protecting the stability of the Delta as opposed to perhaps a threat to the Delta environment. How do you see it, Jay Lund?”
“I think this kind of a project, some kind of a project is going to be needed in the longer term to protect the water supply deliveries from the Delta for the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the San Joaquin Valley,” said Mr. Lund. “In addition, we’re going to have to address simultaneously the ecosystem problems and the levee system in a condition with rising sea levels.”
“If I could find out maybe from you Secretary Laird about the timeline on this,” said Mr. Krasny. “Can you give us a sense of what we’re talking about with the hearings and the trajectory of where things are going to move?”
“The hearings are projected to take roughly six months, and so the question is if there’s a decision at the end of six months, and it’s a decision that’s consistent with where the direction of the project is, than the EIR at some point could be finalized and then you could move ahead and deal with the permitting process,” Mr. Laird answered. “As you said earlier, there are a few other pieces to come into play. One of the reasons people haven’t made a commitment on financing is waiting to see what the project is, so there is the financing issue. And there is making sure that the fish agencies and others make a statement of how they think the project could operate and what the needs for fisheries would be, and once again, you would see if that is truly addressed by the project.”
“Let me go back to Jay Lund. … What about the argument that we’re hearing that not only is this too expensive, but I want to get to the real core of the concern of many in the Delta that it’s harmful to the estuary,” said Mr. Krasny.
“I think in terms of the cost, one of the virtues of this kind of proposal is that the major infrastructure would be paid for by the users, and that’s usually a pretty good screen on whether something is financially or economically viable, at least for the users,” replied Mr. Lund.
“But is it a threat to the Delta environment?” asked Mr. Krasny.
“This is the second point,” said Mr. Lund. “In terms of the Delta environment, if you operate this kind of facility correctly, it might do some benefit. If you operate it incorrectly, it could do some harm. As with most of the infrastructure in and around the Delta, levees included. So we have to be pretty careful on the Delta ecosystem, it’s very precarious right now in the north for the native species, but I don’t think the tunnels and the modeling indicates this, it’s of a tremendous magnitude of importance for the Delta relative to the many other kinds of stressors and alterations that the Delta has experienced … “
“I should mention that Jeffrey Kightlinger, who is general manager and CEO of the Southern California Metropolitan Water District has said this is not a done deal, he said this as the hearings began,” said Mr. Krasny. “They play obviously a fairly significant role in all this, but there are many things to get past. He has said that for example, if the twin tunnels package is a fair proposal, he will support it, but there are many people who are still up in the air, and there’s a lot of, as we flushed out in the first half hour of our program, a lot of disagreement on this.”
Mr. Krasny goes to the callers.
Joan from San Jose says, “I think that the local communities need to have some kind of inducement to store water locally in non-evaporative small areas, also vernal ponds should be enlarged, so throughout this state, there is storage of water, community by community. This gets paid for perhaps by some big project, or locally, but it’s very important to catch the runoff as it exists, and then to look at maybe piping excess from flooding, etc, and then north of the Bay where sometimes there’s terrible floods, to the south in some kind of project or tunnel; the southern part of the state that has horrible fires now, and terrible droughts still continuing.”
“Thank you for that suggestion,” says Mr. Krasny. “Jay Lund, do you want to respond to it?”
“I think the caller brings up an excellent point that really these tunnels are not the only thing that needs to be done for California water management,” said Mr. Lund. “In fact there’s no silver bullet for the water management problems in California. This is just one effort that would allow more flexible operations of the system and more flexible movement, and improved water quality throughout the system, but the caller is completely right that throughout much of the state, we need to infiltrate more surplus water into groundwater and capture it as well as not only for drinking water and water supply, but also for stormwater management.”
Krasny goes to another caller, William in Los Gatos. “Thanks for including me,” says the caller. “I wanted to comment on Mr. Laird’s opinion that the twin tunnels would do anything for water catchment. I have reviewed the EIR; I followed this subject very closely for the last several years. I’m a native Californian, I grew up on the Delta, and the water that is being exported from the tunnels is and would be used for agriculture in Kern County, unsustainable farming that frankly shouldn’t be there in the first place. I think California is very ready. We recognize the need for water catchment; instead of creating these preposterous tunnels, we should be spending that on water catchment. We can do better usage with groundwater, we can reuse grey water, we need to be able to capture more of that water that we get in these storms, and not try to send it to Southern California area for farming that shouldn’t take place in the first place.”
Mr. Krasny turns to Mr. Laird for a response.
“The perfect example to William and the previous caller is that their home area is Santa Clara County,” responds Mr. Laird. “In the 50s and 60s when orchards were turned into subdivisions, there was massive groundwater overdraft, and they were in danger of running out of supply, and they did what was suggested. They did major dams and catchment: Lexington, Anderson, and other reservoirs; they used it to go into percolation ponds across the Santa Clara Valley, and the groundwater table returned. It was good groundwater management way before it was mandated. It was the best catchment they could do, and given what happened in the Santa Clara Valley, it only supplies water to 45% of the needs, and they have had to import 55% from outside, from both the Hetch Hetchy and the Delta to make their budget.”
“The question is after you maximize, are there ways to lessen reliance, and that’s exactly what William just suggested,” continued Mr. Laird. “They’ve done a great recycling plant in San Jose, but if you were to displace 1/5th of the imported water in the Santa Clara Valley, you would have to 111 recycling plants, which is probably not possible. So the question is, how do you do a mix of everything and still have imported water? How do you do more recycling? How do you do more conservation? How do you do more stormwater capture? But at the current usage levels or even some substantial conservation won’t displace the need to have some level of imported water.”
“When it constantly said it goes to agriculture in Southern California, it also goes to southern Alameda County,” said Mr. Laird. “Michael mentioned Zone 7 which for listeners is the Livermore and Amador valleys which is 83% on Delta water, so Santa Clara, parts of Napa, southern Alameda, eastern Alameda, and Contra Costa which has its own Delta water system – they are all on Delta water right now in the Bay Area, they all need to import water and we want to work with them. What the water bond does is provide a lot of water for alternatives or money for alternatives in water, but there will still need to be some mix of imported water to make the Bay Area water systems work.”
“Before I go to more callers, I want to go back to Barbara Barrigan-Parilla,” said Mr. Krasny. “The concern that many have might be summed up in concern about the status quo. I asked you before about what might be placed forward to the California citizens in lieu of this project. Would you concede though that there’s real risk to species that’s ongoing and that the water deliveries are erratic?”
“In terms of the water deliveries, they have been consistently too much,” Ms. Barrigan-Parilla said. “During the last two years of drought, water quality standards were rolled back 15 times in the Delta through emergency orders, and that is because every time we hit drought, the first thing that is sacrificed is water quality for all beneficial uses in the Delta.”
“I’d also like to talk a little bit about the Santa Clara Valley Water District,” Ms. Barrigan-Parilla continued. “Secretary Laird continues to talk about how they are dependent upon Delta water for about 40% of their water use. Nobody is saying that their exports from the Delta should go away; as industrial and municipal users, we believe that the water that could be safely shared from the Delta should go to our urban centers where we have great beneficial use, because those are the economic drivers for the state of California. However, if you take a look at the total amount of water that they use that is exported from the Delta compared to all the other users, it makes up about 4 – 5% of the water taken from the Delta.”
“In normal water years, 70% of the water taken from the Delta goes towards that large industrial agriculture down the west side of the San Joaquin Valley,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “Also, Metropolitan Water District said they won’t pay for the project if those growers in Westlands and San Luis Delta Mendota don’t participate financially. A couple weeks ago, Fitch Credit Rating Services said that San Luis Delta Mendota and Westlands will be taking on about $400-$800 million in new debt to clean up their drainage polluted lands for the settlement that they’ve worked on with the federal government. They are already on negative credit watch. They can’t afford 40% of a $17 billion project, and so we continuing to be dragged through this process at the State Water Resources Control Board.”
“Ten years of processes with the government spending a quarter of a billion dollars already,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “If we would have taken that money and we would have invested it in groundwater capture, cisterns, good urban capture of runoff in places like Santa Clara Valley and down in Los Angeles, we would be way ahead in the conservation game for the era of continuing drought.”
“I want to go back to Jay Lund,” said Mr. Krasny. “Here’s a tweet and it’s probably a question you’ve heard on many occasions. David tweets, How does this differ from the 1960s peripheral canal, and he uses the word, ‘abomination’?”
“This is a much smaller facility so the current proposal is for 9,000 cfs as opposed to 22,000 cfs in the 1980s proposal; the 1980s proposal would have cut off all the east side streams, it would have a lot of surface environmental difficulties that the current proposal would not have,” says Mr. Lund. “It’s much smaller than the original proposal and avoids much of the surface environmental impacts that the original proposal would have had.”
“I have another question for you from a listener named Jack who says Mr. Lund stated that the new diversion point would allow water to be diverted at a different point upstream on the Sacramento River,” said Mr. Krasny. “Is he saying the pumps in Tracy would no longer be used?”
“No, the current proposal is that the intakes up in the Sacramento River, downstream of Sacramento, upstream of Walnut Grove, would take water to the current Clifton Court Forebay for the State Water Project,” said Mr. Lund.
Brian from Oregon says, “I started out in Benicia. The town at the bottom of Lake Shasta has almost become livable again until this last winter, so it might be blood from a turnip by the time this project is finished. I wanted to remind listeners to read Cadillac Desert so they can know what kind of insanity was averted and that this kind of thinking went away 50 years ago. My question is about public opinion. I don’t have a sense, I’m sure the money of the California farmers is behind the project, but I’m going to come down there to protest myself. That’s it. Thank you, Michael.”
“Thank you for that, although we should go on record that not all the farmers are behind this project,” said Mr. Krasny. “You get different regions, you get different support and different people who are not supporting. Elizabeth asks, if the project were seen to completion, how do they keep salt water from entering the Delta’s ecosystem?”
“The project is designed to regulate with how much is taken or not taken to deal with salt, and one of the things that is forgotten is that in, as Jay was mentioning, this is the most heavily engineered location in the world,” said Mr. Laird. “Before there was the Central Valley Project and even the State Water Project, when there was an incredible drought in the 1930s, salt water came up in the unengineered Delta, I think it was to Clarksburg, just south of Sacramento, and so now there’s requirements for releases and requirements to maintain the salinity gradient at the edge of the Delta so that salt doesn’t come in. That’s taken into account in the project.”
“One of the things, when you talk about 40 years ago or what’s happened in 40 years or what’s changed since the peripheral canal, is that we have biological opinions that came in the middle that really require that all these things be taken into account,” continued Mr. Laird. “You have to remember that there were no modern environmental laws – CEQA, Endangered Species Act – when this was first constructed, and it’s been modified by legislation and decisions. In addition, there’s a companion piece to this project which does restoration. There’s never been restoration done in the Delta and we have just started 9000 acres and want to go before the end of this administration to 30,000 acres so that regardless of whether the water project is built, we are moving ahead on ecological restoration for fish and terrestrial species that exist in the Delta.”
Krasny goes to caller Jessie. “I seem to recall in my activist years back, I think it was probably mid 80s, there was a whole flap over the Colorado River being diverted, and that would probably be something to look at as a model of the possible devastation if this happens. I’m sorry I don’t have more information than that, but I’m sure a lot of people out there already do, and I’ll take answers instead of questions.”
“That’s an important point to bring up, and Jay Lund, maybe you can give us some background on that diversion of Colorado River,” said Mr. Krasny.
“I think it’s an interesting point,” said Jay Lund. “The Colorado River Delta has been completely devastated almost to nonexistence by upstream water diversions. The major environmental flows to the Colorado River Delta are now drainage flows that come out of Arizona and Mexico. The proposal I think for the California Delta is very different, that it would not, as I see it, take a tremendously larger amount of away from Delta outflows compared to what we have today, particularly for the water quality and endangered species purposes.”
“Let me go back to you Barbara Barrigan-Parilla,” said Mr. Krasny. “A question from Morgan who says, California has interfered with nature to the point of deprivation of water that should have flowed to clean out the Delta, provide habitat, and protect endangered species. They are sinking our ground and my well has gone dry two times. What can a person in the San Joaquin Valley do to stop this water grab?”
“I think I’m a little confused by the question,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “In the San Joaquin Valley, not everyone receives water from the Delta. We have a lot of water that goes, 70% to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, so not everyone in the San Joaquin Valley on the east side of the valley is dependent on Delta water. In terms of making sure that there is adequate flow through the Delta that can be shared, we have to go back to what was agreed upon in the 2010 hearings in front of the State Water Resources Control Board, where fishery agencies, government agencies, and NGOs reached broad consensus that there must be more water flowing through the Delta and out into the San Francisco Bay. You can only divert safely about 20 or 25% of an estuary without fundamentally altering it. In terms of restoration, the projects that Secretary Laird eluded to are projects that must be completed and should have been completed in 2008 under the biological opinions. We will actually have a net loss of wetlands in the Delta with the construction of the Delta tunnels, which is quite a concern.”
Mr. Krasny turns to Mr. Lund. “Maybe you can clarify this. How much of the Bay Area’s water actually comes from the Delta. Is it really like 95%?”
“The Bay Area gets about 30% of its water supply directly from the Delta pumps, from the state and federal water projects and Contra Costa Water District,” said Mr. Lund. “Overall, however, the Bay Area gets about 70% of its water from the Delta if you include the upstream diversions from the Mokelumne River and the Tuolumne River by EBMUD and San Francisco PUC. So most of your listeners are drinking Delta water or water that would have flowed through the Delta.”
“But you also have to remember that the project does not interfere with export levels for people who are getting their water from East Bay MUD or from Hetch Hetchy,” said Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “An interesting point about the Contra Costa Water District is that they went in and negotiated their own private settlement with Cal Water Fix to have a new pipeline, because if they had to continue taking water for their half a million water users with the new intakes in place, the water would have been so degraded, it would not have met Clean Water Act standards for their water users.”
Mr. Krasny goes to Mr. Laird for a response.
“I think that’s not exactly right because the real thing is that the Contra Costa Water District recognizes that there’s multiple stressors, and that even a one foot sea level rise over time changes the 100 year sort of tidal flood impact to ten years in that their water is threatened by that stressor as much as anything else,” said Mr. Laird. “So I think there are all these different stressors that are the reasons they entered into that deal.”
Krasny goes to another caller. John from Santa Clara asks, “I think that this is maybe a short-term expensive solution because if sea level rises or when it rises, it makes more sense to put a dam under the Golden Gate Bridge as radical as that sounds, but if you look at the map, putting levees around two airports, the port, Oracle’s campus and everything else, would be 100 times more expensive then choking that bottleneck, and then every drop of fresh water that would flow down the river, I’m sure we would use up, if we would let people.”
“John, let me ask Secretary Laird, what’s the plan for sea level rise?” asks Mr. Krasny.
“I think that obviously this project is one, but there are many, many things that we have to do for resiliency on sea level rise,” said Mr. Laird. “And in fact, over the next 90 years, if it gets to 5 feet in California, in the Bay, you’re going to have to do marshy wetlands and different things as well as maybe even retreat of certain buildings in certain places or dams and dykes in concert with it, just to deal with safety. You have all your infrastructure, whether it’s roads, whether it’s water systems that are gravity flow to the current sea level, whether it’s sewer systems that are a lot of times force main to the current level of it – all those are affected, so it’s going to be a massive public works event in that if this is a gradual thing, but it’s the extreme events that drive it home. Really every local government across the Bay Area is starting to think about this, and has to think about it, and has to incorporate into their planning and even their infrastructure projects now.”
Krasny goes to the next caller. Andrea from Los Angeles asks, “I would like to ask any of the proponents, why should we as taxpayers and ratepayers, be paying for something that is not going to benefit us in terms of new water, especially here in Southern California? It’s just going to benefit big oil and big ag in the Central Valley.”
“That’s a very good question,” said Mr. Laird. “That’s not true, but the thing about it is, Southern California gets a lot of credit for the fact that in the last generation, they’ve grown by 4 to 5 million south of the Tehachapis on the same amount of water. They have conserved. That has handled their growth, but what it does is it makes the underlying water really necessary for that conservation. They rely on some local supplies, but the Colorado River, the Delta, and a little bit on the Owens Valley, and if you don’t have an underlying reliable supply, you can’t conserve, you can’t recycle. What this is really about is the resiliency of the current supply, so that it allows all those other things in the portfolio that lead to lesser dependence over time to work, and so it’s really hard for people to understand that without this project, the amount of water they get from the Delta will drop over time as the Delta deteriorates if this is not addressed and that’s going to lead to major water supply problems around the San Francisco Bay area and the Central Valley and Southern California.”
“I just want to say that the project does not deal with the number one water problem that we are facing in California and that is that demand outstrips supply five-fold,” says Ms. Barrigan-Parilla. “And the tunnels will not solve that problem. We need to share water with the areas that are the economic driving forces in the state. What doesn’t make sense is to continue to apply good water after bad water for agriculture on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, that contributes 3/10ths of a percent to the state’s GDP, almonds for exports for big industrial growers that aren’t job creators. It isn’t about protecting a food source. We protect 90-95% of our agriculture. We need to retire those drainage impaired lands so we can free up water supply so that we can protect areas outside of the Delta so that there is some water to share while we put in great conservation and regional self-sufficiency plans throughout the state.”
Krasny goes to caller Michael. “I have a couple open ended questions,” he said. “Is it ethical, responsible, or prudent to sell water reliability in a state that has gone through multiple 20-100 year droughts over the last 2000 years? I have one other question. If the Delta is currently an unnatural place, why are we building another piece of unnatural infrastructure? Why not restore the estuary back to a more natural state, specifically scale back corporate agribusiness in the semi-arid desert and invest in regional self-sufficiency in urban areas? Australia’s response to the millennium drought gives a perfect case study for what’s wrong with massive industrial scale projects, and what works about small incremental projects in urban areas for regional self-sufficiency.”
Krasny thanks the caller, directs the question to Jay Lund. “I think there are a lot of great things we need to do at the small scale in terms of water conservation and reducing water use, both in agriculture and in cities, and there’s a lot of local scale things we can do to augment supply, particularly in some areas. But if you look at the quantities of water that people use, both in cities and for agriculture, it’s huge, and given the hydrology of the state, you almost need to have some very, very large facilities that capture those very large, larger wet season flows and move them across into the dry season. We’re really stuck in this dry climate. If we want to have a large population and a large economy, with really industrial scale movement, just like when you require industrial scale transportation systems for our normal existence in this state.”
“We’ll be continuing to cover this story and in fact, talking about water,” said Mr.Krasny. “It’s inevitable when you’re in the state of California. I want to thank all our guests … “
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