A Real Bay-Delta Solution: It’s Not WaterFix or Nothing

The Brown Administration's proposal to build two giant water diversion tunnels from the San Francisco Bay-Delta, aka “WaterFix,” faces deep public opposition, even after a decade of planning and boosterism. A fundamental reason for this opposition is the Department of Water Resource’s (DWR) refusal to consider sensible alternatives to their twin tunnels plan. In DWR’s world, you’re either for $17 billion+ tunnels, or you want the Delta to collapse; you either commit wholeheartedly to their plan to increase exports from the Delta and decimate its fisheries and water quality, or you’re a short-sighted shill for the status quo. 

In the real world, the range of options to achieve California's co-equal goals of restoring the Delta's ecosystem and improving water supply reliability is far more extensive than DWR's Hobson's Choice.  To name just one, NRDC, in conjunction with several water agencies around the state, has urged DWR for years to analyze a “portfolio alternative:”  a smaller, cheaper, single Delta tunnel that would reduce exports to restore the health of the ecosystem, and increase investment in local water supply and demand reduction projects to improve water supply reliability.  PPIC proposed a similar, single-tunnel approach in a recent opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee. 

These ideas are not radical.  Most progressive communities around the state are investing in local, sustainable water supplies as the path to water reliability in a climate-changed future, instead of trying to squeeze ever more water from distant rivers and streams.  As one commentator recently noted:

Los Angeles, Santa Monica and many other of the state’s communities are pioneers in 21st century “soft path” approaches that mimic or reinforce natural processes instead of trying to overcome them: storm water capture, wastewater recycling and plain old conservation. These strategies — not an absurdly expensive project that serves chiefly to perpetuate the existence of the bureaucracies that support it — would reduce pressure on the delta while showing the way to California’s water future.

But DWR has consistently failed to seriously consider or analyze these alternative approaches.  DWR's mega-project vision has driven the agency into a corner where the only option left to justify its tunnels proposal is to dissemble.   But real solutions to California’s water challenges will not be found in that corner.  Reprinted below is the excellent point-by-point rebuttal that San Diego County Water Authority prepared to DWR Director Cowin’s recent pro-tunnels op-ed in the San Diego Union Tribune.  If we’re going to solve the Delta crisis and California’s larger water challenges, honest dialogue is a necessary foundation.  Thanks to the San Diego County Water Authority for laying the groundwork: 

About the Authors

Kate Poole

Senior Director, Water Division, Nature program

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