Costly Infrastructure Project That Won’t Be on the California Ballot

California voters don’t get a say about the governor’s Delta tunnels plan, but that hasn’t stopped organizations such as the Delta Counties Coalition from continuing to work to halt the project.

Written by Don Nottoli, Chuck Winn Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
Water is held back from a lower-elevation farm by a section of Highway 4 that serves as a levee road in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta west of Stockton, California.David McNew/Getty Images

The California primary election on June 5 will give voters the opportunity to decide on candidates and critical issues that will have major state and local impacts. It’s how the democratic process should work. That’s not the case for Governor Jerry Brown’s $17 billion twin tunnels project, known as WaterFix, which completely bypasses a vote of the people.

WaterFix will result in sizable rate increases for tens of millions of Californians living in the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) service area. Deep-pocketed water districts that decimated the Owens Valley still have tunnel vision. When all seemed lost for the tunnels and financing could not be agreed upon, MWD, intent on locking in a huge water grab, agreed to fund most of the tunnels project, hypothesizing that it could squeeze substantial funds from other water districts when they got thirsty down the road.

Influenced by MWD, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which unanimously declined to financially support WaterFix last fall, reversed its position and voted to contribute up to $650 million after receiving the full $485 million in funding from the California Water Commission for the Pacheco project that the water district had been seeking. This got Santa Clara two seats on the newly formed Joint Powers Authority that will oversee the design and construction of WaterFix. If the district thought it would have a lead role at the decision table, it won’t, because MWD and others represent a majority on the Joint Powers Authority Board.

Despite this latest hurdle, the Delta Counties Coalition, an alliance of the counties of Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo, will continue to fight against WaterFix to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and provide all Californians with better, reliable and less costly water solutions. Californians deserve 21st-century solutions that can more effectively meet our water needs and will not harm the Delta, such as projects that promote greater regional self-reliance, levee reinforcement, desalination and above-and-below-ground storage.

There is a finite capacity to generate ratepayer dollars for investments in water system improvements. WaterFix takes from opportunities to invest in more beneficial and cost-effective projects that, unlike WaterFix, add to the state’s water supply with fewer environmental impacts. Water interests in Kern County are global leaders in their ability to convey water from multiple sources, taking advantage of surface water flows in wet years to store excess water underground for use in droughts. Projects such as the Isabella Lake Dam Safety Modification Project will reduce the flood risk and protect an important water supply for the greater Bakersfield community.

While voters will not have a say about WaterFix at the ballot box next week, the Delta Counties Coalition and other statewide interests are aggressively pursuing actions to stop the tunnels. Governor Brown terms out this year and the next governor must know that you and most Californians are against it.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.

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