This week, Governor Jerry Brown’s office released further details of its plan to build twin tunnels to pump water from Northern California to cities and farms in other parts of the state. Brown says the $23 billion plan will help restore ecosystems, but critics say the proposal would further threaten the Delta’s endangered fish and hurt smaller farmers. We talk about the latest plan and its potential impact on the region

Lauren Sommer, KQED science and environment reporter
Karla Nemeth, project director of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan at the California Natural Resources Agency
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta
Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst on water issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Sometimes I wish Californians would slow down and really look at the amazing delta that so many people take for granted. And why should we here in the north send any water to other areas of the state, which will only encourage more growth that will want more water?

  • Tim

    Dave: My question is about how this project would be governed. How do your guests reconcile the use of an “adaptive management” (i.e., trial and error) process by scientists and water supply managers to amend this project’s conservation strategies and operational rules with the need for this project to be accountable to the California public?

    • They aren’t accountable. Why wasn’t a cost analysis done? It is fueled by those wanting the water. The communities along the delta were omitted from the BDCP process from the start. They can’t even state what fish screens would be used for the tunnels. Maybe if the promise to upgrade the current fish screens was done it would solve some of the high fish losses at the current pumps alone. The refused to look at cheaper options. It is charge ahead at full speed. The habitat program will end up costing calif. around 9 billion dollars. Enhancement is doubtful for fish.

  • Why not try to make Southern California more water efficient and give the money to California state programs like the UCs or CSUs which have lost billions of dollars of funding? The reality is that Californians waste a lot of water on things like lawns and making Californians who live in dry communities use less water to begin with would be more efficient.

  • Jared

    What ecological role do the delta smelt serve? And what other key wetland species are at risk besides salmon?

    • coreycate

      salmon a wetland species? They travel thru, they don’t hang around. Out with the water to the ocean, when it flows to the ocean instead of the pumps. Wetland restoration has other purposes. One of which is to remove family farmers from their land and their water rights: both coveted by upstream users. Oh and land developers and conservancies who claim to be neutral on politics.
      As far as ecological roles of smelt, they were there when there were no pumps, and they’re still there, doing whatever it is they do in the giant web of what we call nature. They don’t need a reason to exist, they just do, and it’s up to people to respect existence or pay consequences. We lose species at our own peril. That appears to be lost on those who only see money as the reason for existence.

      • Jared Crabtree

        when people talk about the delta they talk about two fish.. salmon and delta smelt. how do smelt effect other fish populations, birds, mammals; and what will their loss contribute to the downfall of other species? thank you for your biological perspective.

  • BobW

    Why not invest the same amount into desalination plants? This will gives us water into the far future.

    • I agree but california seems to be locked in the 19th century in regards to using newer science. Not like California is totally land -locked. There is a whole ocean out there and with rising oceans why not use it.

    • coreycate

      one answer to why is this: the governor wants certain people to benefit, and one of those people is Bechtel. We all know Bechtel Corporation is a person, right? Citizens United decided it is. That’s law. Oh and big projects mean big money to someone, under the guise of “Jobs” of course (Banks included). Another reason is that frackers want subsidized water. Another reason is that Stewart Resnick wants to sell more water. That’s more water he’s gotten via less than stellar methods, from the Kern Water Bank. Another reason is that Hesperia and Mojave Desert communities want water, and they want to continue to spoil land with houses and alfalfa, which of course is beneficial use, depending on who you are and whether you’ll make money from a public trust resource provided by the taxpayer at less than true market rates by a corrupt government system overrun with lobbyists. Need more reasons? Financial institutions are banking on the privatization of water.

  • Scott Johnson

    Any Delta plan should include a ban on any fish farm in the river system. The experience in Canada where fish farms have caused wide spread disease in wild salmon populations should be a warning to us in California.

  • Neilh

    I wonder how much incentive there is for the agriculture water districts to encourage efficiency. When looking at water districts that had water allocations – that is low cost “free” water – I saw no incentives to be efficient, or to even monitor the amount of water distributed.

  • Ehkzu

    California hasn’t grown a bit since I was born here. Nor has amount of potable water increased. However, its human population has quadrupled. Can our water supply accommodate an unlimited number of people? If not, when–and how–do we draw the line? The little township of Bolinas drew the line decades ago, very simply: they elected water board members who said they’d refuse to issue new water permits for more homes.
    Human population growth isn’t a force of nature. It’s a result of policies adopted by governments–policies heavily influenced by wealthy developers and influential building trades unions. Plus every city and county, who want more homes and businesses for the revenue needed to pay their lavish pension and health plans for their employees.
    All of them collectively demand that the rest of us sacrifice our quality of life for their benefit. But in tiny increments, using the “how to boil a frog” model of incremental degradation.
    Pity that radio programs like this never question the underlying assumptions–in this case, that “growth” is both inevitable and, somehow, good.
    That’s the philosophy of cancer.

  • Tim

    Dave: Recent state law requires that everyone dependent on the Delta needs to reduce their reliance on the Delta so that the estuary can recover. How can the new north Delta intakes possibly foster that if we sink $14 billion into it and they keep withdrawing the same or more water than ever before?

  • Tim
  • Jim Mott

    Big agriculture’s and Southern California’s toll on the environment in search of water for watering lawns TO DATE includes:

    1) Turning the Owens valley into a desert and impoverishing the farming families in that valley;
    2) Destroying Mono lake and the bird populations that depend upon it;
    3) killing off the Delta Smelt and the other fisheries (salmon, bass) that feed on the delta smelt;
    4) Using 20% of all the electric power generated in the state to pump water over the Tehachapi Mountains.
    5) Diverting so much Colorado River water that the outflow into the Gulf of California is a trickling open sewer.

    California’s water supply is already shrinking due to climate change
    reducing the average snow pack. this is a zero sum game, and we cannot
    continue diverting water.

    When do we decide that big agriculture’s and Southern California’s water usage is environmentally unsustainable and destroys economically important fisheries and the environment elsewhere?

    we need to recognize that southern California and the central valley are deserts and shouldn’t
    have such a large population? Maybe the money would be better spent
    encouraging the relocation of San Diego and LA’s people? Just having
    central valley agriculture and the cities pay the true water costs would be a start.

    The real reason
    for the delta tunnel is the likely salt water intrusions into the delta
    after levee failure following a major earthquake in Northern California would end the ability of agriculture and southern California cities to get water from the Sacramento- San Joaquin delta.
    See Marc Reisner’s books: “A Dangerous Place”, and “Cadillac Desert”

    Jim Mott

    • James the Water Guy

      Your post is rife with inaccuracies. For example, the California Energy Commission estimates that 19% of the electricity used int he state is used for ALL of the water use cycle – including all of the water that is collected, treated, delivered, used, discharged, treated and returned to the environment from human communities in the WHOLE state. The amount of electricy that is used to pump water over the Tehachapis is less than 1% of the total.
      Which gets to your second point. I don’t know where you live, but if it is anywhere from San Francisco around through San Jose up to Livermore/Concord/Fairfield/Benicia, you are using water from the Delta watershed, and are having a deleterious impact on the ecosystem. You are either getting water from earlier peripheral canals (Hetch Hetchy and EBMUD), or from the Delta directly (CCWD or the State Water Project). So, sanctimony about those nasty agribusinesses or people is Southern California is completely inappropriate. Environmental unsustainability starts at home, and the one in your mirror is the first one to talk to.

      • I have to reply. Not all agribusiness. Oh we have farms here also. The mega-farms were built on arid lands for almonds, etc. what percentage of calif’s GDP and then the runoff from soil that can’t absorb the water is returned into the San Joaquin River. Selenium! remember the Kesterson reservoir? So 66 percent of the water diverted is for those mega farms and in return we get the poison back. Ther eis also the issue of water rights. The cities were here long before the farms were developed. Oh and the drinking water quality here is poor from lack of sufficient flow. CCWD water intake is below the Aquaduct pumps by the way. If the multi-millionaires were required to pay the going water rates instead of reduced prices then I believe we wouldn’t have most of the water issues we do. Do you realize if the eco system of the delta collapses how many businesses and people would be affected. Oh by the way the farms here produce a much greater variety of crops than those mega farms.

  • Annette

    There has been virtually no discussion of the many alternatives to these tunnels. We need to understand how we are using the water (do we really need lawns)? The public, including me, does not understsnd the water rights that were granted with no relation to the amount of water in the system: these rights amount to several times the water available. I have heard that new orchards have been planted in the last 20 years. We need to do an analysis of what crops are being grown & where they are grown.
    There has been only lip service to a much smaller tunnel. Once such a facility is built it must be heavily used to cover the financing. This system as designed will have the capacity to drain the Sacramento river, which cannot maintain ecosystems.
    California has developed very recently in a relatively wet era, which suggests that maybe what we call normal is really wet.

  • James the Water Guy

    All of you agriculture bashers and So Cal bashers need to take a look at my response to Jim Mott. If you live in the Bay Area, you are having as much of an impact, or even more, on the Delta ecosystem as are any of the users south of Tracy. You have your own peripheral canals that take water from the Delta, and your dams are just as bad, if not worse, than those further south int eh San Joaquin Valley. So, if you want to talk about sustainability, start with a conversation with yourself.

    • Agriculture bashes? It is Westland and others in desert climate areas that use 66 percent of the water diverted from the delta. That means what may be left goes to the cities in southern cal. Then there is the issue of the amount of fresh water flow. Both for fish and also affecting San Joaquinn and Contra costa county water supplies. Why? The delta is an estuary with tidal influence. the more water taken the further salt water intrusion goes upriver. So thousands of people here already have poor quality water and it will just get worse. Oh also the fact about earthquake damage to the levees is inaccurate. Think they better look at other areas along the Aquaduct. Especially where it crosses fault lines.
      The dams here were mainly built to supply the farms and Southern calif. Construction destroyed large areas of salmon spawning areas. Even the Academy of science says more fresh water flow is needed. So the BDCP plan is truly not science based. Maybe when the southern calif water users rates go up if the tunnels make it then everyone will see. The water agencies that want the water are in the planning process but won’t pay the huge amount.

  • Jim Mott

    I will concede that I used the incorrect number for the percentage of power used to pump water over the Tehachapis: You are correct it is unstated, but probably 1%.

  • Ellis

    for the show. This clearly is a “hot button issue” for all
    Californians. May I point your listeners to a very well researched
    book, “How To Create A Water Crisis” by Frank Welsh written in
    1985. It mostly looks at Arizona, but has very useful information
    about California.

    those thirsty Westside Central Valley Farmers; we’re not bashing you
    to point out that you get the lions share of the water from the
    current aqueduct system and no doubt you would like to maintain this
    share in any new water project.

    Los Angeles – San Diego South Coastal Basin has enough surface
    water to support 21 million people. See pg. 195 of above cited
    reference. So, they don’t need northern water today, but any newly
    engineered plumbing system should attempt to anticipate and include
    their future needs.

    can support a population of 296,000,000 with existing surface water
    supplies. See pg. 16 in book cited. This is slightly less than the
    population of the entire United States. The issue really is; what is
    the smartest, most environmentally friendly way to deliver this
    valuable resource.

    I think that Californians deserve the right to vote on any project of
    this scale, cost and impact. If we’re going to spend $14 Billion, we
    should be able to create, at state cost, a Hollywood or Pixar style
    video featuring these guests and other interested advocates to make
    their case for their proposal. This video should be made available
    for free or at $2.00 to every taxpayer in the state. Then lets have
    an honest 90 day comment period and then vote.

  • Jim Mott

    Rife with inaccuracies? I think not. In the future I will post my sources. Here is a first pass at correcting today’s post.

    I will concede that I used the incorrect number for the percentage of
    power used to pump water over the Tehachapis: You are correct it is
    unstated, but probably 1% is close to accurate. Here is a secondary source for the data:

    I stand by the statements that the water available to California is shrinking as the snow pack shrinks due to climate change and that the Owens Valley farmers were wiped out by the Los Angeles Water Authority when their water was taken away by diversion upstream of their farms. The farmers were not compensated.

    The fisheries in California have collapsed, as measured by the state statistics on the amount of each species landed by fishermen each year.

    shows that the peak year for kilograms of Salmon canned from the Sacramento river was 1882. Similar data can be shown for other fisheries. See Lichatowich, J. A. 1989. Habitat alteration and changes in abundance of coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) and chinook (O. tshawytscha)
    salmon in Oregon’s coastal streams. In Proceedings of the National
    Workshop on Effects of Habitat Alteration on Salmonid Stocks. Can. Spec.
    Publ. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 105:92–99.

    Take a trip on Interstate 10 between San Diego and Phoenix some time if you doubt my statement about the Colorado River. Watch Carefully, though, as the river is hard to notice. While So Cal isn’t entirely to blame for the state of the Colorado River (Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico also get water), the net result is that it is as I described it. The Colorado in southern Arizona and Mexico as it exits to the Gulf of California is a polluted sewer. Go and look.

    Mono Lake was so near to collapse that it was the subject of a lawsuit the outcome of which was that water diversions to Los Angeles were reduced. That is part of the public record.

    We all depend on the food grown in California. I am no agriculture basher. We are stuck between the size of our non-farm population and its food needs and the way in which farmers are compelled economically to grow the needed food. The farmers are as trapped as urban dwellers are, and the stress on farms and farmers is terrible.

    Certainly all areas and populations of Californians bear equal blame for the state of our world, our rivers and our ecosystems. Figuratively speaking, as each species goes extinct and then impacts the other species that depend upon it, we are sawing the legs off of the chair upon which we sit.

    As for restoring habitat, at least there is now provisional agreement to remove many of the dams on the Klamath River, which may help to revive the Salmon runs on the Klamath River. What other dams would you suggest we remove, James Cee?

  • James the Water Guy

    Mr. Mott – I was not contesting the environmental impacts you cited, nor the projections for the snow pack. What I was contesting is that all of these problems are caused by water diversions to agriculture and Southern California. Northern Californians are as much to blame, as are invasive clams species, conversion of wetlands in the Delta and in SF Bay to farms and housing developments, predation by non-native predators, discharges of ammonia and other insults to the estuary. Those who think that it is all the fault of agribusiness or wasteful southern Californians are being dishonest and disingenuous.

  • agricola44

    Thank you, Dave Iverson, for hosting this BDCP forum on KQED.

    The BDCP conversation seems to overlook the horrific negative effects the BDCP twin tunnels would have on farming in the Delta Counties: Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, Contra Costa and San Joaquin (as distinguished from “big agriculture” or “agri-business” in the southern San Joaquin).

    Farmers in the Delta counties produce the crops that feed both the Bay Area foodshed and the Sacramento foodshed. This is the “farm” piece of the “Farm to Table/Farm to Fork” community, as well as the farmers who produce large scale crops for California, the Nation and the international community.
    To engage in a plan, like BDCP, that impacts our ability to grow our own food seems enormously foolish, at best.

    Meanwhile, there are reasonable, doable alternatives to the BDCP that address both environmental issues and developing real sources of increased available water, such as decontamination of existing aquifers, recycling, desalination and conservation – the cheapest source of water.

  • Wes

    I originally left this comment on the KQED Forum Facebook Page, got 1 like… and then it disappeared. I will leave it here.

    I listened to the session on the Delta this AM. I note it is not
    important enough to warrant mention here. OK. I get it that taxes are
    immediate and the water issue has time. But time works against public

    Listening to Karla Nemeth obfuscate on the
    questioning about ignoring public input made me glad that I did not vote
    for Gov. Brown. (Voted for Laura Wells). The tone of her presentation
    sounded very much like a bureaucrat who already knew what the solution
    would be and needed only to continuously search for a justification that
    they could sell to the public.

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