The California Aqueduct passes near the city of Mojave. (Los Angeles Times )
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan has the potential to untangle some of the expensive and inefficient knots in California's water supply system while repairing some of the damage done over the decades to the landscape and wildlife of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Gov. Jerry Brown's "preferred alternative" of tunnels around the delta may work — or it may not, and Californians still need to know more before committing the state to a new water diversion project. Analysis and environmental review are ongoing.
But because the plan proposes change, and because change is threatening to those who have a stake in the status quo — or those who are most comfortable with tired arguments and images from 30 years ago — opponents are in high gear. Their alarm has led to some specious, sometimes humorous, but in the end false assertions about the plan.
Critics of the proposed tunnels, which would bring water from near the town of Hood south to a forebay and the California Aqueduct, say that their size — 30 to 40 feet in diameter — shows very clearly that wasteful Southern Californians intend to suck every last drop of the Sacramento River to water their luxuriant lawns. In fact, there is no decision yet on the size of the tunnels. They would be large not to fill them with water but to sufficiently reduce friction to allow the water to flow by gravity. Smaller tunnels would require costly electric pumps that would leave a huge carbon footprint. The goal is, as it should be, to learn from the experience and accumulated knowledge of three decades, to avoid repeating the mistakes and to begin to rectify some of the errors of the past.
As for our luxuriant lawns, perhaps our friends and neighbors elsewhere in the state could take note of some straightforward facts: Delta water, and a new project to make its flow more predictable, is more desperately needed by the East Bay and the Silicon Valley than by Southern Californians, who use it as part of a broad mix of water sources. We do a pretty good job here with water conservation, and can be a good example for our counterparts (including some in cities around the delta who haven't yet gotten around to having their water meters installed). Of course we can always do better. And doing better is part of the Bay Delta plan as well; Los Angeles and the rest of the region will be relying more on groundwater, runoff reclamation and other sources of water as we trim our need for imported water. The tunnels, if they are ever built, are not meant to increase the flow of water southward, but rather to deliver whatever water is available through a system that is less vulnerable to earthquakes and rising sea levels and less damaging to delta wildlife.