Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to ’fix' Delta a classic water grab

The Sacramento ecosystem would be devastated

Learn more about the governor's Bay Delta Conservation Plan at

Gov. Jerry Brown’s $23 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan has nothing to do with fixing the Delta. Just ask Jerry Meral, deputy secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency and Brown’s point man for the plan.

In perhaps the biggest political gaffe in the long history of California’s ongoing water wars, Meral stunned observers when he recently remarked that Brown’s plan, which has been marketed as a way to fix the Delta while protecting the water supply, “is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved.”

The comments made headlines up and down the state, sparked outraged calls for Meral’s dismissal, and exposed the plan for what it is: a blatant water grab and a death sentence for the Delta.

Water flows toward money in California, and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan being pushed by Brown is only the latest scheme to send water from Northern California around the Delta and ship it to moneyed interests. It calls for construction of two massive tunnels that would suck water from intakes on the Sacramento River between Freeport Boulevard and the town of Walnut Grove, and pump it to diversion canals near Tracy, where it would be channeled south to fuel Central Valley agribusiness and Southern California development.

Local impacts would be profound. Some 2,660 acres of prime Sacramento County farmland would be taken out of production to accommodate the intake infrastructure. Another 2,826 acres in four counties would become disposal areas for 27 million cubic yards of “tunnel muck,” the dirt and chemical waste from the tunnel excavation, which would be piled in plateaus along the route.

More importantly, the Delta ecosystem would be devastated. Environmentalists have long pointed out that current levels of freshwater diversion are not sustainable and need to be reduced. Increased diversion, combined with the predictable impacts of climate change, would almost certainly result in the extinction of protected species and ecological collapse.

To date, the state has been unable to produce scientific evidence to support claims that operation of the tunnel system would improve freshwater flows and benefit the Delta. Equally important, BDCP advocates have failed to provide a long-promised cost-benefit analysis explaining why the taxpayers and water-district ratepayers should be willing to pick up the project’s $23 billion price tag.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Opponents of the plan have pointed out that a “portfolio approach”—that combines increased water recycling and conservation, new storage facilities south of the Delta, improved cooperation between water agencies, and levee improvements—could do more to achieve the state-mandated co-equal goals of restoring the Delta and protecting California’s water supply, and do it for billions less than Brown’s plan.

Jerry Brown has done a lot of things right in his return to the governor’s office. It would be tragic if his most enduring legacy was a water project that destroyed the Delta to benefit big agriculture and SoCal sprawl. We urge the governor to drop the tunnel plan and back a less expensive, more ecologically sound portfolio approach.