California Water Wars, Part 2

As we reported earlier today, a forthcoming study, to be released on Monday, details the consequences—both good and bad—of the Twin Tunnels project that would divert water from the Sacramento River to farms and cities to the south. Critics say that it addresses only the concerns of contractors and agriculture, and doesn’t mention the rest of the California populace.

We did get a call from the study’s author, Professor David Sunding, this afternoon.

Sunding, who supports the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), is the Thomas J. Graff Professor in the College of Natural Resources, co-director of the Berkeley Water Center, and a renowned expert on water policy. He responds to Bill Jennings, the executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and opponent of the project, who says the report on the project “comes from the perspective of the contractors,” and “is too limited and biased,”

Sunding agrees his research addressed contractor concerns, but says Delta water deliveries figure into the economies of the south state and the Bay Area as well as Central Valley agriculture. All Californians, he says are affected by water availability.

“The BDCP is in many ways like an insurance policy,” he says. “[In hindsight], it may seem a bad investment if nothing happens – but if you don’t have it and something does happen that disrupts water deliveries, it could be disastrous.”

Sunding says his work considers possible impacts to Delta water supplies if a conveyance system is not built: such as future endangered species listings or seismic events that could collapse Delta levees, shutting down the huge pumps that currently send water to the San Joaquin Valley and southern cities.

“What the plan would do is greatly improve the stability of our water supply,” Sunding says, “and from a cost/benefit perspective, that’s worth a lot.” 

As part of the analysis, Sunding and his team calculated Delta water exports post-BDCP, and found that they would average about 5.2 million acre feet annually, given expected requirements from government water agencies on obtaining a 50-year operating permit for the Twin Tunnels. 

“Without the BDCP, exports could only total 3.5 million to 3.9 million acre feet,” Sunding says.

—Glen Martin

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