Wednesday, January 16, 2013

First Impression of the NRDC Portfolio Delta Plan

 The "new" NRDC proposal is very similar to a compromise based on the 3,000 cfs pipeline proposal Greg Gartrell and Jonas Minton were talking about a lot back in 2009 and 2010.  I thought was the best proposal out there in 2010 and early 2011. 
At that time, I thought the small tunnel was necessary for a lifeline water supply in the event of the earthquake.  All I knew about Delta earthquakes and levees was what I read in the newspapers and heard from Dr. Doom.  After working on the DPC Economic Sustainability Plan, I now realize that the earthquake risk to water exports can be reduced by as much or more as building tunnels through the common sense approach of upgrading the levee system, an action which also has enormous non-water benefits.  To their credit, this new portfolio plan doesn't make seismic risk reduction the principal justification for the 3,000 cfs tunnel and the plan does call for significant levee investments.     

I didn't notice any agricultural water agencies on the NRDC water agency support letter.  I don't think their small and still very expensive tunnel, and their portfolio of alternative water supplies provides a lot of value to agriculture, both outside and inside the Delta.  While the 3,000 cfs tunnel has the advantage of being cheaper and thus leaving more money to invest in the rest of the portfolio, I'm not sure a $5-7 billion, 3,000 cfs tunnel with 4 to 4.3 maf of average exports is a good investment compared to a no-tunnel BDCP with potentially more levee and habitat investment. 

Farm water supplies is where I think Bob Pyke's West Delta Intake plan may have an edge over this NRDC/Barry Nelson adaptation of the Gartrell/Minton little tunnel plan, it provides more water to agricultural users who have fewer alternative investment options than urban agencies.  We need further development of both of these conveyance alternatives.
Overall, I think the new NRDC portfolio proposal is a welcome development, even if it is mostly repackaged old ideas put forward by an interesting coalition.  It is clearly better than the current BDCP, and it deserves serious consideration. 
At the moment, I count three credible alternatives to the current BDCP that are not receiving enough serious consideration: NRDC portfolio plan (little tunnel), DPC economic sustainability plan (no tunnel), and the West Delta Intake concept (big tunnels downstream).  I am pretty sure all of them have lower costs and higher benefits than the current BDCP proposal, and that all of them satisfy the co-equal goals of state law.

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