A destructive ‘solution’

Twin-tunnels project will eviscerate Central Valley ecosystem

The author is the water-outreach coordinator for the Butte Environmental Council.

The Butte Environmental Council opposes the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Building high-capacity tunnels to remove large amounts of fresh water from the Delta will destroy the Central Valley ecosystem as well as fisheries, recreational opportunities and the agricultural economy of California.

Citizens of the North State—where less than 2 percent of Californians live, and 86 percent of the freshwater in the Delta originates—must join together in opposition to the twin-tunnels project. Rerouting a major river around its natural confluence with the ocean is an outdated solution stemming from the old mentality of ‘the bigger, and more expensive, the better.’ What damage this mentality has had on the environment and the economy!

Much has changed since this project was proposed more than 50 years ago, and later defeated by voters in the early 1980s. We have seen how effective water-conservation and regional self-sufficiency efforts can be, and applaud Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Slowly, we are realizing that true water security does not involve reliance on sources hundreds of miles away, but on the development of solutions closer to home.

We must not be fooled into a hugely expensive, environmentally detrimental project built under warnings of a water crisis while we’re still growing cotton in arid environments, mixing excessively large amounts of clean water with chemicals for fracking, and flushing drinking water down the toilet.

Upon the recent release of the EIR/EIS and twin-tunnel project plan, we must remind the governor that water is connected and finite. No matter how big Jerry Brown plans to build these tunnels, there is no new water! To fill these tunnels, water will be taken from somewhere else: the Sacramento River watershed. The governor is counting on water-rights holders in the north to capitalize on a loophole and policy of double-dipping. A minority of people with rights to surface water will sell to the highest bidder to fill the tunnels—whether it be for agriculture, development, water banking or fracking—replacing their own water needs with free and unregulated groundwater.

A game of get-it-while-you-can—known as the “tragedy of the commons”—leads to overpumping aquifers. It has happened in the San Joaquin Valley and other places where water supplies are poorly managed. As the groundwater table drops, wells and creeks run dry, trees die, and the Sacramento River becomes a losing river—placing California’s water supply at risk.