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

By From page A4 | January 08, 2014

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.

Rod Kerr

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