As I write this week’s column about the Delta water tunnels, I can almost hear the television theme song of "Bonanza" playing in the distance. Is this a simple issue of water rights...or could it be something else?
The plan proposed by California Governor Jerry Brown calls for two massive tunnels to be built below the Sacramento - San Joaquin Delta that would take water from the Sacramento River and transport it down south. This project would impact the existing highways in the area, which would need to be reconfigured to accommodate the tunnels. Cost for this program is estimated to run in the billions.
"This program would take our best water and ship it elsewhere," explained former San Joaquin County Supervisor and dairy farmer Leroy Ornellas. "Right now the water in the Sacramento River comes from the Shasta. By taking that water, you don’t have the opportunity to have the good water go through the Delta to flush the Delta. Salt levels would rise. This will affect us as we will be left with lower quality water for farming purposes. In order to get the tunnels built, several thousand acres of Delta farm land will need to be converted to open space habitat. All the acres taken out of production will change the face of agriculture here in San Joaquin County."
Several sources list the project cost at an estimation of $23 billion. Interesting to note, that the new bay bridge cost only $6.416 billion, according to baybridgeinfo.org. Friendsoftheriver.org projects the cost more in the neighborhood of $25 billion and the site goes on to say that the tunnel project would have devastating impacts on the region’s farming and fishing - and put several endangered species at increased risk of extinction.
"The cost of this project is really unknown at this point," said Michael Maciel, Tracy mayor pro tem and member of the Delta Coalition. "The benefit verses the cost is in question. This project doesn’t generate more water. It’s better to develop more means of storage during the wet years to be used in dry years."
"The tunnels are a highly expensive system that won’t help anything unless you lose the levies," said Tracy farmer Jim McLeod. "When I first heard about this project, my opinion was it would crash of its own weight."
Given the state’s chronic fiscal troubles, can we really afford this? Would an increase in water rates sit well with those already stretched thin? Is the Delta water tunnels project fraught with too many flaws? You decide.
• Anne Marie Fuller, a Tracy arts commissioner, is Mrs. California BOTN & National Mrs. Beauties of the Nation. She is also the television host of "Helpful Hints with Anne Marie" on Channel 26 at 7 p.m. Fridays. Contact her at Annemarie@columnist.com.