A few follow-up notes on the no-tunnel BDCP op-ed I authored in today's Sac Bee.
1. All the calculations in the article assume the BDCP economic analysis has correctly valued the cost of future water shortages (the economic benefit of the tunnels is preventing these shortages). However, the BDCP uses a high future growth scenario and a dim view of alternative water supply technologies to blow up the costs of shortages (benefits of the tunnels). If they had adopted a growth forecast that matches the state's and most forecasters' consensus projections, they would have estimated 5 million fewer people in Southern California in 2050. If they would have combined this with modest cost reductions in water supply alternatives, the study would have found that paying for the tunnels is even worse for ratepayers than the water doomsday scenario (as low as 3.4 maf of exports) they used for comparison to the tunnels.
2. The BDCP economic analysis did consider 1 no-tunnel alternative, a highly engineered Delta corrirdors plan that uses $5 billion of modifications of Delta channels (a dozen or more barriers and gates, dredging, fish screens, etc.) to isolate San Joaquin River flows from the Sacramento river water conveyed through the Delta to the pumps. The BDCP economic study finds that this alternative has a significantly higher benefit-cost ratio than the tunnel plans and some benefits for fish. And the economic study forgot to include $2-4 billion of water quality benefits to the exporters from this plan that I am told will be in the final revised study. That will put the benefit-cost ratio of this alternative significantly over 2, which blows away the tunnels plan on an economic basis. There are problems with this alternative too, but it certainly looks better than the tunnels using the BDCP's own studies.
The bottom line is this. The BDCP has ignored a number of viable and less costly no-tunnel alternatives. As today's op-ed said, a reasonable conclusion from their own studies is that simply removing the tunnels from the current BDCP is almost certainly better than the tunnels plan. The BDCP study also found that a plan with super extensive modifications to Delta channels is better than the current plan. In light of this evidence from their own reports, the continued tunnel vision of BDCP is inexcusable.
There is a lot of space in between these two visions of through Delta conveyance. Since the BDCP analyzed a bunch of different size and configurations for the tunnels to find the optimial isolated conveyance facility, they should make a similar effort for the through Delta options to find the optimial through Delta option. These options would include different levels of channel modifications, different levels of seismic levee upgrades (from as little as 100 to up to 600 miles), different fish screen options for existing conveyance, and explore the possibility of new intakes in the West Delta as proposed by my friend Dr. Pyke (I'll call this through Delta conveyance too since the freshwater gets most of the way through the Delta).