Strengthening levees makes more sense than peripheral canal, say experts

February 1, 2012 11:43am

•  Levees are critical to economic sustainability in the Delta

•  Reports say seismic levee upgrades are lowest cost strategy for water supply reliability

Seismic improvements to between 300 and 600 miles of lowland Delta levees and planting appropriate vegetation on the water side of enlarged levees is the most cost-effective strategy to achieve California’s co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration, according to the Economic Sustainability Plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that has now been approved by the Delta Protection Commission.

The finding is consistent with recently released results from the Department of Water Resources’ Delta Risk Management Strategy Phase 2 in which strategies focused on improving Delta levees had higher economic benefits and lower total costs than strategies that include a peripheral canal.

“Completion of the Economic Sustainability Plan is a significant milestone in the Delta Protection Commission’s efforts to help assure the protection and enhancement of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta,” says Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, chairman of the Delta Protection Commission. “Most importantly, the findings and recommendations in the Economic Sustainability Plan demonstrate that protecting and enhancing the unique values of the Delta and its economy are consistent with the co-equal goals of water supply reliability for California and ecosystem restoration in the Delta.”

The ESP also details the contribution of agriculture, recreation, and critical energy, transportation and water infrastructure in the Delta to the regional and state economy, and estimates the long-term economic impacts of ecosystem improvement proposals. The study found that most proposed ecosystem improvements can be consistent with economic sustainability in the Delta, and that some ecosystem improvements, such as improved fresh water flows, significantly enhance both the Delta’s economy and environment.

However, the ESP recommends against a proposal in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to create 65,000 acres of tidal marsh because of its many negative impacts on the Delta economy, uncertain environmental benefits, and nearly $2 billion in implementation costs from public funds.

The peer-reviewed 300-page ESP was prepared by a team of nationally-recognized economists, engineers, community and recreation planners led by Jeffrey Michael at the University of the Pacific Eberhardt School of Business.

The ESP estimates direct Delta farm revenues were $795 million in 2009, and the five most valuable crops were tomatoes, wine grapes, corn, alfalfa, and asparagus. Including related food and beverage manufacturing enterprises such as wineries and canneries, the ESP found Delta agriculture supports over 25,000 jobs across California and over $2.1 billion in income (value added).

The ESP estimates Delta recreation and tourism attracts 12 million visitor days per year, generating roughly $250 million in visitor spending in the Delta. Delta recreation and tourism supports more than 5,000 jobs and $350 million in income (value added) across California, the report says.

The ESP also found that Delta recreation and tourism has shown little growth despite rapid population growth in the region, and developed strategies to encourage growth in Delta recreation by developing focal points that enhance recreation and the Delta’s historical legacy towns.

“Delta recreation has many of the same needs as Delta agriculture, including improved flood protection and water quality,” says Mike Machado, executive director of the Delta Protection Commission. “Both agriculture and recreation contribute to the quality of life and are significant factors in the regional and state economy.”

The ESP identified Delta infrastructure systems, and the closely related transportation, warehousing and utilities economic sector, as the third critical economic cluster affected by Delta planning efforts. The report finds that the Delta’s role as a center for regional and statewide energy and transportation infrastructure and local water supplies is economically comparable to its role in the state water system.

“Levee and emergency management investments simultaneously protect all critical infrastructure needs, including water supply reliability, while also protecting prime farmland and public safety,” says Mr. Michael, lead author of the ESP. “The Economic Sustainability Plan lays out a cost-effective, balanced solution to economic and environmental sustainability.”

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