Feb 28 2014
$24.7 Billion For What?
The future of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta — an estuary
critical to California’s water future -was the subject of a Feb. 27 forum I
attended, sponsored by Citizen’s Coordinate for Century 3.
Andrew Poat, consultant to the California Resources Agency, and Dennis
Cushman, assistant general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority
served on a panel discussing critical water issues in light of Gov. Brown’s
Both sides presented their arguments using PowerPoint slides. My “take-away”from the forum is this:
San Diego County is being asked to reduce water consumption by 20%, while
SDCWA’s share of the State Water Project through the Metropolitan Water
District is 20% (MWD’s largest customer). If these facts are true, then the
water users in San Diego County have no interest in seeing the Bay-Delta
Conservation Plan (BDCP) become a reality to the tune of $24.7 billion
dollars. We wouldn’t need MWD if we cut water consumption by 20%.
In my opinion the BDCP is a boondoggle of mind-numbing proportions. The two thirty mile long
tunnels, are forty feet in diameter . Compare this to the Chunnel carrying trains
between the UK and France under the English Channel. Those tunnels are twenty-four feet in diameter.
The BDCP would be the largest public works project of its kind in the world.
Those facts, in themselves, are not what make the BDCP a non-starter for
residents of San Diego County. When completed, discounting the fact we may not need the water,
San Diego will still be importing water from hundreds of miles away, subject to natural disasters
and capricious courts. So what value is this to us?
Rather than siphoning good, cold cash away from San Diego County to make
sure three million acres of Central Valley farmland are guaranteed water,
and to protect Delta fish and wildlife, the residents of San Diego County
through the SDCWA should be focusing on indirect and/or direct potable
recycling. The problem we have is that should the BDCP actually happen, San
Diego will have no other choice than to pay for this enormous mistake through increased water rates, according to Dennis Cushman.
It won’t be the first time the Brown family has screwed up the ecology of
California. The following outtake (#4) from Water Shock did not make it into
the final manuscript, but is on www.water-shock.com. It is a fictional
conversation using actual facts when the Burns-Porter Act was signed in 1959
by the then Governor Brown, Sr. in Sacramento. He confirmed the total cost
would be $1.75 billion dollars, but in fact the final cost was in the three
billion range. This is a clip of a fictional video at the signing, using
historical information from Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert”.
“Governor,” a man says, “word has just come down. We have final approval of
the Burns-Porter Act. That bill will be on your desk for signing by
tomorrow. What arrangements do you want me to make for the bill-signing
“The usual. Make sure we have all of the co-sponsors in the pictures this
time, especially Hugh Burns.”
“What do we want to call this project?”
“Here’s a press release you can hand to the press corps during the signing.”
The man reads the release:
We are pleased to announce that the $1.75 billion dollar Feather River
Project, also known as the California Water Project, has been approved by
the legislature and signed into law.
This is a major step forward to further the economic interests of everyone
in California. The California Aqueduct begins at Oroville Dam, which is the
height of the Pan Am Building and the length of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Below the dam and the Thermolito Afterbay, the Feather River joins the
Sacramento and flows into the Delta.
At the south end of the Delta, the Clifton Court Forebay precedes a battery
of ten-thousand-horsepower pumps that suck the Feather River thirty miles
across the Delta before it escapes to the sea, then lifts it the first three
hundred feet toward its ultimate thirty-four-hundred-foot rise-one single
lift is higher than the Eiffel Tower atop the Empire State Building-over the
Tehachapi Mountains to the beginning of the California Aqueduct for its 444
mile run to Southern California. It will be a monumental achievement for
which Californians can be justly proud.”
The next day Governor Brown signed the Act with a flourish and smiled for the cameras,
then he rose from his desk and said, “Now that the Burns-Porter Act has
been signed, I’ll take a few questions.”
“Do you think the voters will approve a bond issue of this magnitude?” asks
a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner.
“We are certain of it. As you know, one of the bill’s sponsors is Hugh Burns
from Northern California.” [the bond issue passed by a slim margin of
174,000 votes out of 5.8 million cast]
“With all due respect, Governor, there is a rumor here in Sacramento that
the actual cost estimate is around three billion dollars. Will you comment
“We have solid documented cost estimates of one-point-seven-five billion.
Whoever passed that information to you is totally uninformed. Next
question.” [the video clip ends]
In this section of Water Shock, Charlie Reagan is passing along his knowledge of the Central Valley.
Charlie continued, saying that at the time of the bill signing, the
estimates were actually in the three billion range, not the
one-point-seven-five that Brown stated. Brown was worried the bond issue
would fail if the published estimate was any higher. And it was built.
Together, the California Water Project and the Central Valley project have
captured enough water to supply eight cities the size of New York. But the
projects brought into production far more land than they had water to
supply, so the growers had to supplement their surface water with tens of
thousands of wells. As a result, the groundwater overdraft, instead of being
alleviated, got worse. The state had signed binding contracts to deliver
4,230,000 acre-feet of water. However, all of those works could deliver a
safe yield of only 2.5 million acre-feet of water.
For more information on the State Water Project, go to:
Comments are invited
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