A Solution to Water Problems in California
Two massive, $16 billion tunnels that looked to be the future of California’s water system have been thrown into limbo by a group of powerful farmers, and Gov. Jerry Brown and other tunnel proponents are facing the prospect that the project may end up just a pipe dream.
The board of Westlands Water District voted to withdraw its participation from the project after more than an hour of tense discussions and comments from farmers who overwhelmingly concluded it was too expensive.
Water is a contentious issue in California, which leads the nation in agricultural production, growing nearly half of its fruits, nuts and vegetables. Irrigation water now flows through a complex system of reservoirs and canals managed by state and federal officials that was built decades ago. Gov. Brown and other legislators say the aging water infrastructure must be modernized. The project calls for building two 35-mile-long (56-kilometer-long) tunnels east of San Francisco to deliver water from the Sacramento River mostly to farms and cities hundreds of miles away in central and Southern California. Backers of the project say the tunnels will stabilize delta flows, bolster endangered fish and ensure a reliable water supply. Critics say the project will be used to drain Northern California dry and further harm native fish.
Recent failed votes in several water district have placed the projects bold ideas in jeopardy.
The powerful Westlands agency provides irrigation water to 1,000 square miles (2,590 square kilometers) in the San Joaquin Valley, some of the nation’s richest farmland.
Officials in other districts were watching the Westlands vote as they prepare to make their decisions on the project that has been on the drawing board for more than a decade.
Opponents representing delta farmers, who long battled against the tunnels, considered the Westlands vote a good day for California. They’d prefer seeing money spent on capturing Californian’s storm runoff and replacing leaky toilets as ways to ease the demand for delta water.
The vote came a day after The Associated Press reported state plans to put dozens more water agencies and millions of families and farmers on the hook for funding the tunnels.
The approach pivots from longstanding state and federal assurances that only water districts that seek to participate would pay, instead shifting responsibility to a broader sweep of districts. William Bourdeau, executive vice president at Harris Farms and a Westlands board member, said the economics of the project didn’t pencil out and it came with no guarantee it would produce consistent water supplies years from now.
“We would be obligating hundreds of family farms,” Bourdeau said outside the meeting. “That doesn’t make economic sense.”
Gov. Brown is pressing to secure the project before he leaves office next year. Calls and emails to the governor’s press office seeking comment Tuesday were not immediately returned.
Westlands farmers had considered delaying their vote in hopes of securing a better deal from federal officials, but Birmingham told them the terms wouldn’t likely change.
“There’s just too many unknowns,” said farmer and board member, Larry Enos.
“The only guarantee is once we do it, we have to pay the bonds. I can’t get comfortable with it today.”
Water flows through an irrigation canal to crops near Lemoore, Calif. Farmers in the nation’s largest irrigation district are considering whether to sign on to California’s biggest water project in a half-century.
A small group of protesters carrying signs that said “Water is a human right” and “Stop the water tunnel tax” gather at Los Angeles City Hall on Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 to urge Mayor Eric Garcetti and other local officials to come out against the planned Delta Tunnels. They said Southern California ratepayers would be stuck with higher bills to pay for the ambitious plan without getting any additional water from up north.
California’s Westland Water District of the Central Valley, canals carry water to southern California.
E. Bishop III, The Money Connection.Com
“Following The Money People”