Friday, May 1, 2015

Governor Brown attempts to justify the $15+ billion construction cost of the Delta tunnels. "Yes, this costs money, but compared to what? A stadium? (Water) is the basis of human existence.”

"Compared to what?"

That's actually a good framework for thinking about the wisdom of investing tens of billions of dollars in the Delta Tunnels.  But the Governor needs to define the real trade-offs instead of creating false choices - neither stadiums, civilization or the "fabric of modern California" is at stake - all of which he referenced in yesterday's news conference.

What are valid comparisons?
  • Higher investment in alternative water supplies like stormwater capture, water recycling, and limited use of desalination.
  • Higher investment in water conservation and maintenance such as fixing leaking pipes.
  • Higher investment in Delta levees that simultaneously protect public safety, water supplies, transportation infrastructure, energy infrastructure, and property.  [If the Governor is really worried about a Delta earthquake, why is he only worried about water exports - and not saving lives and this other critical infrastructure too?]
  • Letting a few thousand acres of crops go fallow - and given the tiny water yield of the tunnels - this isn't much of a loss. [Actually, a viable finance mechanism for the tunnels could require ag-urban water reallocation, so there could be less farming with the tunnels than without - especially when the impacts on Delta farming are included.] 
There is plenty of evidence to to show that billions of dollars spent on tunnels are a clear financial loser when compared to all of these alternatives.

It is important to remember that in the original proposal where the tunnels were part of the BDCP - the State's consultants could only economically justify the tunnels by putting an enormous dollar-value on the 50-year permit.  Yesterday, they conceded that the permit was not happening.  Thus, the economic analysis their consultants produced to support the BDCP shows that the tunnels are no longer economically justified.

Of course, spending less on water-related projects is a valid choice too - so it is not entirely unfair to compare the tunnels to non-water related projects.  If the Governor wants to have a discussion about the fabric of civilization, I would suggest that he compare it to spending on education and universities, public safety, or healthcare.  But even if we are going to compare it to unnecessary-sounding projects that also involve lots of concrete, I would be willing to bet the tunnels have a worse return on investment than most stadiums, or even a bullet train.

1 comment:

  1. As the chair of the "Water & Energy Committee" of the Latino Community Roundtable of Stanislaus County we want to congratulate you for the timely comment in this very important issue for our communities. Your website is the most important source for myself, our membership, friends, and supporters. Thank you.