Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My turn: Twin Tunnels Project — Conservation or giant water grab?

From page A4 | January 08, 2014 | 9 Comments

Studying the lengthy multi-agency Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), one has to conclude it is everything but a plan to conserve the Delta’s natural state and function. Disguised as conservation, this plan actually supplies more water to California’s major urban centers of the Bay Area and the LA basin and helps with agricultural needs to southern counties. So, what dictionary did they use to define the word conservation?

In a nutshell, the Sacramento Delta (recently renamed the Bay Delta) is the largest fresh water estuary on the west coast of the Americas. From Alaska to Argentina it harbors the largest species diversity and migratory bird habit, and the single greatest threat to this unique ecosystem is saltwater intrusion. By continuing to take fresh water from the original South Delta pumping stations and proposing to divert even more water under the Delta via the “Twin Tunnels” virtually guarantees increased saltwater intrusion in the Delta, and local wells.

BDCP planners and promoters in the media have hugely complicated the issue of taking more water from the Delta by exaggerating conservation benefits. Moreover, creating new ways of pumping existing agricultural and Sacramento area water from upstream of the Delta is still robbing Peter to pay Paul. But the theft is real, the net effect is loss of more freshwater in the Delta increasing salinity towards Sacramento, and new soon-to-be sky-high water rates for the Sacramento area and communities along the Sierra watershed.

To be fair, the BDCP claims the “tunnels” will not take more water than originally taken by the South Pumping Station, but the fact that both the tunnels and the south pumps can effectively take twice the original amount of fresh water when working together is very disturbing. That’s like government saying, “Oh the new sales tax is only 4 percent … and will never go higher … it’s written in the law.” It may be too late though, this behemoth of deception based on “anticipated” global warming, is nearly funded.

Even with “climate change,” this plan will continue to divert fresh water to the urban megalopoli, and the shrinking balance left for the Delta’s fragile riparian and aquatic habitat. Imagine losing an entire freshwater food chain and replacing it with a much less diverse marine food chain? The Delta would lose the diversity of cranes, egrets, ducks, geese, willows, tules, sedges, delta smelt and thousands of other species of birds, mammals, fish, arthropods and plants … and inherit seagulls and mud flats? We have 1,500 miles of coastal marine habitat, but only one Sacramento Delta.

We hear the huge controversy of this final plan. The big cities claiming urgent need of more water for “sustainable” urban development and the great technology centers like Silicon Valley “our promise of the future.” We hear the farmers with legitimate complaints of lack of water and a sudden transition to drought tolerant crops, but of much less value. And we hear the cries of residential consumers worried about significant increases in their water rates, and rightly so.

But who is speaking for the Delta? Is it the EPA, the FWS, the CDFW? If the tunnels are completed, nobody was listening.

Just suppose the $100 billion tunnels investment was instead used to develop new desalination technology for the great bulk of California’s population … all living near the coast. With Silicon Valley’s technical acumen, $100 billion, and the world’s largest reservoir, doesn’t it seem plausible water could be drawn from a new inexhaustible supply instead of wrestling over the last drop in the Delta? Distilling seawater with solar heat is not rocket science, but it could be.

Perhaps the next single greatest accomplishment for the early 21st century, like the airplane and the model-T was for the 20th, will be a new technology. A blend of high-tech solar arrays, reflector-based liquid-sodium steam generators, and thin-layer vapor recovery systems to economically convert seawater into vast new sources of freshwater made available by California ingenuity. A world changing benefit, not only reducing the potential for wars, but actually enhancing environmental requirements for the Delta while at the same time creating a tremendous new economic recovery for California.

World peace may be a stretch, but where there’s freshwater there’s prosperity, and prosperity leads to peace. Imagine what an Israeli/Palestinian and California (IPAC) “Waterworld” could accomplish. But it will take real leadership. You would think with such a progressive, forward-looking California state legislature and governor having made it legal for ill-defined transsexuals to use any public restroom they wish, including public school restrooms and showers, they could focus on something more significant for all the people of California … and the Delta.

Rod Kerr is retired with 30 years of service at the California Department of Food Agriculture and with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.


Discussion | 9 comments

  • Dink LaneJanuary 08, 2014 - 12:11 pm

    The NAME of it has NOTHING to do with the actual plan........ BDCP --> Bay Delta Conservation Plan........... That's like a electronic machine called "Well Built" and then falls apart after using it a second time..... Conservation.... Ha, Ha.... Conservation for Northern CA only...

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  • Oreo 95667January 08, 2014 - 6:19 pm

    Yea dink like "Global Warming", it falls apart after you use it a few times. HA Ha ha lolololol!

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  • Phil VeerkampJanuary 08, 2014 - 8:06 pm

    Rod, desalination is hugely energy dependent. Where do you envision acquiring the THOUSANDS of acres required for the solar components you speak of? Nuclear seems politically impossible. I see no alternative to the tunnels . . . and yes . . . we will see saline intrusion far up . . . approaching Sacramento.

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  • rodJanuary 09, 2014 - 4:13 pm

    Phil, you are thinking conventional solar panels, Google liquid-sodium steam generators. New half cylinder parabolic reflectors focus sunrays on waterpipes running parallel to the reflectors.. making steam. new low surface area technology. Think of a magnifying glass focused on ants... remember that trick??? Time we ALL think out-of-the-box instead of taking more water from the delta.

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  • Pat SnellingJanuary 09, 2014 - 12:13 pm

    The Tunnels is just a new label for an old plan: Peripheral Canal. In fact the path for the tunnels is the very same path that voters rejected back on Nov. 8, 1980 (Prop 8).

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  • Pat SnellingJanuary 09, 2014 - 12:48 pm

    The truth is that the Tunnel project moves the fresh water 'intake' away from Tracy -- Tracy is at sea level. The Tracy pumps would frequently pull too much fresh water out of the Delta. When that happened, the sea water would rush in (carrying the smelt) -- This is the "Lack of Reliability" the water-barons were upset about. Moving the intake to just below Sacramento -- at about 100 feet elevation-- would isolate the "pumping of fresh water" from the damage caused by the sea water filling in for that missing fresh water. Communities such as Contra Costa Water Agency (Home and businesses) and the Delta farmers (e.g. asparagus, pears and table grapes) are left without fresh water for their crops and communities. Now these SMALLER businesses are left with trying to find a solution created by these "Bigger" and "Faster" pumps to meet the Water-Barons who get their water almost free.

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  • rodJanuary 09, 2014 - 4:17 pm

    Pat, Mostly correct except they want to use BOTH ends of the delta to pump water INCLUDING original south pumps... bad idea

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  • Pat SnellingJanuary 09, 2014 - 4:57 pm

    True. What most people down stream fail to know is that the Water Barons, who will take 75% of the water pumped out of the Delta will "not" pay one extra dime until their water-contracts expire in 40 to 50 years. In the meantime, the local water purveyors for the home and business owners -- will be charged close to $200 "more" a month than what their water bill is today. Some of these agencies have already started raising their customers rates to soften the blow. This worries me, because our water purveyors (EID and GDPUD) frequently use the valley's water rates as a premise on what they charge us. Remember our purveyors will not be responsible for paying for the $14 Billion tunnels and we shouldn't be impacted for the cost of the tunnels. Now the Water-Bond scheduled for the Nov. ballot, that is a totally different can of worms.

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  • Pat SnellingJanuary 09, 2014 - 5:01 pm

    *** Correction *** "the local water purveyors" who will be charging close to $200 a month more are the ones using the water pumped out of the delta, not use up stream from the delta. Sorry about the mistake.

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