Governor’s tunnels a poor investment say experts

March 11, 2016 2:58pm

•  Would negatively affect Bay Area economy and environment

•  "The Delta tunnels are a poor investment for the Bay Area water agencies"

Experts testifying Friday at a San Francisco hearing say the governor’s proposal to build two huge tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River to benefit Los Angeles water district and some San Joaquin Valley farmers would be detrimental to the Bay Area’s environment and economy, including the region’s tourism and fishing industries.

The potential effects of the tunnels proposal, and other pending decisions in the Delta, on San Francisco and the Bay Area was the topic of discussion at the hearing of the Senate Select Committee on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, chaired by State Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis.

“No other resource is as critical as freshwater to sustaining the health of the Delta and San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary and the important tourism, fishing and other industries those environments support in the Bay-Delta regions and beyond,” says Ms. Wolk.

“Yet the connection between pending Delta policy decisions and the Bay Area — its ecosystem and economy — are often lost, overlooked or completely ignored.”

She says numerous experts testified Friday that the Delta tunnels proposal of Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. – essentially an underground version of his 1980s Peripheral Canal scheme that was defeated by voters -- would significantly harm the health and economy of the Bay Area, which is integrally linked to the health of the Delta.

“That’s something for Bay Area communities, which would be responsible for a portion of this $15 billion project, to consider. Especially in light of recent news that Westlands Water District, which would be partially responsible for the project, was fined this week for misleading investors about the state of its finances,” she says.

Among those testifying at the committee was John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, and Diane Riddle with the Bay-Delta State Water Resources Control Board.

Jeffrey Michael, director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific, testified at the hearing about the financial and other risks related to the tunnels proposal.

“The Delta tunnels are a poor investment for the Bay Area water agencies,” said Mr. Michael. “Not only are the tunnels far more expensive than the alternatives, these agencies are putting their credit at risk in a partnership that counts on financially shaky agricultural water districts to pay off the majority of an expected $20 billion in bonds. Just this week, Westlands Water District became only the second municipal bond issuer to ever be fined by the SEC.

“Some Bay Area business groups have been persuaded to support the tunnels because they have heard the levees could fail in a massive earthquake,” Michael continued. “Bay Area business leaders need a better understanding of all the critical regional infrastructure at risk in the Delta, including critical energy and transportation infrastructure, local farms, recreation and historic sites. Upgrading levees is not only cheaper than Delta water tunnels, levees provide more benefits to the Bay Area, including saving lives and protecting the full range of critical infrastructure.”

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