Sunday, October 8, 2017

In the nation's poorest big city, tunnel supporters push to raise water bills based on nostalgia instead of facts.

After 11 years of planning, the $17 billion WaterFix project has no viable financial plan (other than approving a blank check from southern california water ratepayers), no benefit-cost analysis justifying the project, a negative environmental assessment, and a small and highly uncertain water supply effect.

So how does the Governor, Metropolitan Water Districts and other leaders sell a rate increase of substantial magnitude to poor households to pay for such a poorly-justified legacy project?  With a mix of nostalgia, hyperbole and fear.

The LA Times editorial board echoed this weak case for the tunnels in its Sunday editorial, "Stop waffling over the delta tunnels and dig."  Without even mentioning the recent news that the tunnels' already shaky finances were blown up by Westlands Water District and Bureau of Reclamation's decisions not to pay for the tunnels, the Times gives a strong endorsement a few days before Metropolitan Water District votes.

One might expect some thoughtful discussion of ratepayer effects and how to pay the colossal costs.  This is especially true given that Los Angeles has the highest level of poverty of any big city in the U.S., with the enormous and rising cost of living for LA households the largest contributor to the city's biggest crisis.  Instead, ratepayer effects were brushed aside with this dismissive, fact-free statement at the end of the editorial.
One thing urban ratepayers can count on, though, is that their water bills will go up. The issue is whether they will be paying more because they are financing a project that keeps a sustainable amount of water coming to them, or because there is no project and water therefore becomes a scarcer and more precious commodity. 
Rather unbelievably, they are asserting that there will be no difference in rates with and without the project.  Even the most deceptive pro-tunnel propaganda doesn't make that claim.

When it comes to modern, more sustainable alternatives for water supply, the editorial says - yes, we need to build and pay for all of that too.  This argument that assumes household water bills are an unlimited resource in the nation's poorest city.  There is no need to prioritize, buy it all!

LA is a city with serious economic issues.  It needs a spark from new industries with growth potential, not higher household bills for outdated legacy projects.  It could be a worldwide hub for the next generation of water technology, a silicon valley of water tech, creating jobs and economic development while it solves its own water challenges by developing and deploying technologies that can be replicated and sold around the world.  Rather than direct LA ratepayer dollars in this forward-looking direction that would give the City an economic boost in the short and long-term, tunnel backers would prefer to cement (literally) its water future to an outdated approach that creates environmentally destructive one-time jobs hundreds of miles away.

The editorial boldly argues that the tunnels are good for the rest of the state too.  I guess those Westlands farmers who voted no and residents of the Delta counties are just too stupid to know what's good for them.  It says it will be good for the delta's environment, repeating advocates propaganda and ignoring the actual scientific assessments.  It says it will benefit agriculture, ignoring the assessment of the farmers who would supposedly benefit.  And it says it is good for the entire state's economy because we are all interconnected.  Wrong.  Because the state is interconnected, the whole state would benefit if LA were to choose to invest new technologies, greater regional self-sufficiency, and reduced reliance on the Delta.

Ultimately, the piece is nothing more than nostalgic praise for the great, "ingenious" water projects of the past, and a desire for one more giant project to complete the legacy of the last century.  It's impatient call to "stop waffling and dig" is reminiscent of Governor Brown's comments about "analysis paralysis" and "I want to get shit done."

These kind of statements feel good and sound decisive, but they actually prevent California from moving forward.  Absent an enormous, unjustified and unlikely subsidy, there is no viable path forward on the tunnels.  Rather than being decisive, these sentiments can only force the state into wasting another decade of time and money on a project that simply won't work.  The editorial should be titled, "Stop waffling, and vote no on the doomed delta tunnels."

1 comment:

  1. So much of what damage this project is being overlooked. For example the salt line moving from the Antioch bridge to Sacramento will ruin much of nothern California's farmland. Rivers and sloughs may even reverse flow. This is a nightmare project that could have catestrophic consequenses. Stop the Tunnels!!