GUEST COMMENTARY: The Twin Tunnels Water Project Jeopardizes the Affordability of Your Water Rates, say Don Nottoli and Oscar Villegas

From the Delta Counties Coalition, Don Nottoli and Oscar Villegas write,

“One of the most monumental and potentially devastating decisions in California’s water history is currently being considered, and the health and sustainability of the backbone of California’s water system and affordability of your water rates are at stake.

Over the next month or two, a number of public water agencies will decide on whether to fund construction of two massive, 35-mile long tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to ultimately deliver water to Southern California. The state will be asking your water agency to make a financial commitment to invest in this project. If water agencies agree, collectively they will commit more than $17 billion dollars of ratepayer funds to issue bonds to build a water project which ironically will not provide any new water supply.

There is no compelling analysis that shows how the twin tunnels project will provide significant statewide water supply benefits. In fact, per the state’s own analyses, only speculative and marginal benefits are projected. Most alarming is the lack of serious consideration of other viable alternatives to improve the state’s water system.

A project and decision of this magnitude demands a rigorous analysis of alternatives to ensure that ratepayers receive the best value for their investment in new water infrastructure.

The Delta Counties Coalition (DCC), comprised of Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, and Yolo Counties, has long-advocated for consideration and analysis of broad alternatives to the twin tunnels project and has suggested projects that would provide a greater benefit to the state by increasing and diversifying state water supplies.

The DCC understands the necessity of exporting water from the Delta to Southern California in the state’s highly engineered water system. However, water exports from the Delta are not a panacea to California’s overall water supply shortage. A better alternative to the tunnels that would reduce reliance on the already-strained Delta would be to increase storage throughout the state, which will provide more water and can be done at a significantly lower cost to consumers. Additional water reuse and recycling projects and water desalination facilities could also be built for roughly the same cost to build the tunnels, producing millions of acre feet of new water supply, reducing reliance on the Delta, and further diversifying and improving the state’s water supplies.

Water agencies are starting to notice the high cost and marginal benefit of the tunnels. As recently reported by the Sacramento Bee (“These farmers say they may not pay for Delta tunnels pushed by Gov. Brown), Westlands Water District, a large agricultural water district in the southern San Joaquin Valley and once a strong proponent of the project, is now publicly skeptical of whether the tunnels project can deliver affordable water. Westlands’ cold feet should give all water agencies further cause for concern.

Before your local water agency commits billions of dollars to fund this project through water rate increases, we hope to meet and discuss potential alternatives to better serve you and the Delta. We encourage you to engage with your local water agency as they consider these rate increases and urge them to carefully consider the significant cost, risk, and uncertainty of this project.

We believe there is a better way to responsibly provide sustainable and affordable water to all of California with a multi-pronged approach. To learn about a less costly and more sustainable water solutions for California, please visit”


The Delta Counties Coalition was formed to better represent nearly 4 million people throughout the Delta region and works collaboratively to give one voice to the Delta and engage in efforts to achieve three goals: improve the Delta ecosystem, provide a more reliable water supply for the state, and protect and enhance Delta communities.

Don Nottoli is a member of the Delta Counties Coalition, chair of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, and serves on the Delta Protection Commission and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy Board.

Oscar Villegas is a member of the Delta Counties Coalition, member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, and vice chair of Delta Protection Commission.

Please note that guest commentaries are expressing the views of the authors, and are published here to present different viewpoints as is the tradition of this website.  Guest commentaries may or may not reflect the views of Maven or Maven’s Notebook, and should not be considered as endorsement of any particular point of view.

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One Response

  1. Jerry Gilbert

    The two supervisors have now added affordability to the list of objections to the cross Delta tunnels. Any rudimentary calculation (even without any contributions for non-reimbursable costs), shows that the tunnels are affordable (low income folks are covered by local subsidies). The tunnels are particularly affordable when compared with the advocated alternatives of desalination and recycling.

    The supervisors have joined a long history of northern California politicians, newspapers, and activists. Together they have prevented the completion of the California Water Project. The Peripheral Canal, would have been cheaper and better for the Delta, and should have been built with the original project in the 60s. It could also have been built in the 70s. It is a better project for all concerned. Including fish!

    However, it appears that the best we can do now is the tunnel project. It should be built large enough to take advantage of high Sacramento River flood flows. Not stopped by the unwarranted mistrust of state and regional utility managers. Let’s hope that now the project can be completed: it will benefit the Delta, the endangered species, and add to statewide drought resiliency.

    Jerry Gilbert, PE, NAE
    Former: Chair San Francisco Regional Water Control Board,
    Executive Officer of State Water Resources Control Board
    General Manager EBMUD


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