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Lucy Is Back!

The new tunnel route, which has been changed because of residential and environmental concerns has now "infuriated environmentalists"

Aug 21, 2013

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg has a strategy to solve the twin tunnels plan promoted by the governor. Just after it was announced by BDCP (Bay-Delta Conservation Plan) officials that the tunnels were being re-routed because of Delta resident's concerns, Steinberg said the changes weren't enough and didn't address the fundamental problem: trust. Boy, if he thinks he has a problem with trust, he oughta be us.

After years of discussion and planning by everyone involved, including too many public meetings to count, Steinberg said "what really needs to be discussed and resolved are the operating conditions for the Delta over the next five decades." Oh, and what exactly did he think was going on while water agencies poured hundreds of millions into the planning? Is this just another case of politicians leading us right up to the trough for a drink, only to pull it away at the last minute?

What other surprises did Steinberg have in store for us? "The Legislature needs to re-engage, he says, and make sure all of the key players have a voice in what happens." Is this the same legislature that passed the laws in 2009 creating the Delta Stewardship Council and giving them the power to implement the tunnel plan without a vote of the public? Now the Mercury News editorial board says "And while we think this state makes too many decisions by referendum, it's hard to argue that a project of this magnitude should go without a public vote."

As we've said so many times before, this project will have delay after delay. When will we vote on this? Next Fall? 2016? Who knows? Even if this could sail through without a hitch, it would take 20-years or more to build.

Now the enviros are entering the fray because "they believe it will further damage the already fragile ecosystem of the largest estuary west of the Mississippi River, which they say needs more water flowing through it, not less, to restore its ecological health." Who could have guessed? The new tunnel route, which has been changed because of residential and environmental concerns has now "infuriated environmentalists, who say the tunnels were kept clear of this route originally to preserve habitat for endangered sandhill cranes."

Well, what's it going to be? The sandhill cranes or the smelt? We always said that they would find another critter when they needed one. Or is it just Lucy and her football all over again?

 

Mercury News editorial: Steinberg strategy offers hope for a Delta compromise

Mercury News Editorial

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan took a dramatic turn in the right direction Thursday, acknowledging some of the concerns of Delta farmers by re-routing the proposed massive tunnel system to affect a smaller area and stay mostly on public land.

It's a welcome sign. But there is still a fundamental problem with how the plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is being cobbled together:

Lack of trust.

Critics see the project as an obvious strategy by Southern California water contractors and Central Valley farmers to grab greater control of Northern California's water. They believe it will further damage the already fragile ecosystem of the largest estuary west of the Mississippi River, which they say needs more water flowing through it, not less, to restore its ecological health.

BDCP officials amplified the mistrust this summer by indicating that they may not need legislative approval, let alone a public vote, to build the 30-mile tunnels, since water contractors would pay for the work. This of course means ratepayers, not taxpayers or voters, would foot the bill.

Oh wait. Ratepayers are taxpayers and voters. Think they'll figure that out?

The project, estimated at $25.7 billion, would be one of the largest public works projects in California history. It would include two 40-foot high tunnels to convey water from the Sacramento River to the Delta pumping station near Tracy.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Friday that the new route for the tunnel system announced last week doesn't get at the fundamental problem.

"What really needs to be discussed and resolved are the operating conditions for the Delta over the next five decades," Steinberg said.

The Legislature needs to re-engage, he says, and make sure all of the key players have a voice in what happens. He's right. As an example, while the change announced Thursday makes farmers feel better, it has infuriated environmentalists, who say the tunnels were kept clear of this route originally to preserve habitat for endangered sandhill cranes.

It's also critical to have the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office study the project. It's the public's best chance for an objective assessment of costs and benefits.

And while we think this state makes too many decisions by referendum, it's hard to argue that a project of this magnitude should go without a public vote. It will determine the life or death of the Delta and the reliability of California's water supply for generations. Silicon Valley gets more than half its water from the Delta.

Steinberg brought the whole range of water interests to the table in 2009 and brokered an agreement on an $11 billion water bond. It ended up so pork-laden that it was pulled from one ballot, and Steinberg acknowledges the cost is too high. But he got an agreement once. It's worth another try.

Steinberg says the discussion "needs to be about water flows through the Delta, about water quality and how to assure the co-equal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting the Delta."

Well said.

The changes announced Thursday show that the people behind the plan realize they've got to listen to critics along the way. But a lasting agreement among all competing interests at a price Californians will accept lies in transparency in planning, credible cost-benefit analyses and ultimately clear, enforceable rules for governing the Delta over time, so tunnels built for one purpose can't be used to drain the estuary dry at some later time.

Trying to force something through without legislative and voter approval will backfire because, whether we call them ratepayers or taxpayers, voters will pay for all this. They will want a say.


 

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