Sunday, October 6, 2013

A No-Tunnel BDCP, Optimizing Through Delta Water Conveyance

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).


  1. Solid economic analysis as always, Jeff. As you and others blunt the various arguments put forth by BDCP proponents, the publicly expressed motives behind the project become increasingly specious.

    Most neutral observers would ask why the BDCP supports, even shills for, the most costly cost-benefit alternative. Is theirs the best way to ensure water supply reliability? Why is it being designed to be able to convey several times the amount of water that is projected to be needed to the south and west of the Delta? I believe the real but hidden answer to these questions is not about reliability, but instead about making significant amounts of new water available for massively increased fracking operations.

  2. Hi Jeff - That sounds good ... as long as they don't go back to the through-Delta Peripheral Canal where they were going to cement off Middle River entirely, put in gates and block all recreation in order to stop salt water intrusion and block fish. That would be the absolute worse plan for maintaining any use of the Delta as a place and would be against the Legislature's direction.

    I think saner minds including you are arguing for a plan to simply reinforce existing levees but it must include reductions in the current exports back to a reasonable level else salt water intrusion would encourage the thoughts of gates and cement, destroying the Delta as a boating and recreation mecca, bringing salt water into Delta farms and communities drinking water.

    To respond to John Bass's comment, you are exactly right. The reason they continue down the current path is to enable increased exports regardless of the damage to the environment and Delta farms and communities. Increased water for expanded acreage of almonds to ship to Asia and fracking.

    And for reselling to developers in the LA area. The current plan flows the water through the hands of the huge corporate agribusiness owners who also own land containing oil shale AND also have obtained private ownership of the Kerns Water Bank and/or obtain extra water shares at agriculture subsidized rates - hence are profiting nicely from water transfers.

  3. Quite true analysation by Jeff . BDCP need to rethink on its plans. You have highlighted lots of loopholes in their way of working.