Who’s Paying for the Tunnels?

People were getting happily excited when they read the news that “Water agency won’t finance Brown’s $17B tunnels” reported in the E&E News. The reporter misstated when he said, “Southern California’s largest water provider yesterday unexpectedly backed away from a plan to fund Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17 billion effort to replumb the state’s water system.”

The LA Times title was a little misleading but more accurate when it said, “Metropolitan Water District backs away from plan to finance both delta tunnels.” Note: That’s “both” delta tunnels. MWD was always planning a certain amount of funding. When the Ag water districts backed out of funding anything, MWD was going to vote whether to fund both tunnels now or just one. They reverted to their original offer to fund the amount that will give one tunnel now. The second is not totally off-the-table – it could be built later if/when funding becomes available or if/when they can sell the water from the first tunnel to agribusinesses, frackers, or any others and make a profit. MET said, “More important is that we just get going…. We’re talking one tunnel for now.”

This is the worst possible scenario. If they build one, they plan to take more water than they get now and they could sell any excess and raise money for the second tunnel. A phased approach means 17-20 years of construction through the heart of the Delta, instead of 11-13. One tunnel gives them less operational flexibility and the fear is they would pump during dry periods, doubling the water quality problem in the South Delta at those times while still causing negative environmental impact throughout the Delta.

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