Delta Overhaul Finally Has a Price Tag to Argue About: $25 Billion

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The plan to overhaul the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta finally got an official price tag and it did nothing to assuage critics who don’t trust the numbers or the intentions of the project’s proponents.

The state estimates that constructing two tunnels from the Sacramento River beneath the delta, restoring the sensitive habitat and shoring up surrounding infrastructure will cost $24.7 billion. Construction of the giant tunnels and other facilities would cost $14.5 billion, maintenance would run $4.8 billion and habitat restoration would total $4.1 billion.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is meant to save the delta from ecological disaster while pumping out more water for shipment to farmers in central California and thirsty residents in the south. Supporters also see the project as a safeguard against catastrophic failure by the series of levees that protect the delta.

Skeptics think it’s a cynically deceptive water grab that will further degrade the delta. They fear the plan being presented will also encourage unsustainable agricultural practices near the delta, violate the Clean Air Act, kill recreation around the delta and get rid of incentives to fix levees.

Although the project has been under active consideration for nearly a decade, critics say there has never been a proper cost-benefit analysis, and that the latest blizzard of numbers is inadequate. Restore the Delta, a group that opposes Governor Jerry Brown’s plan, said the estimated cost of tunnel construction alone has tripled in the past three years.

The group says that Brown’s plan mainly benefits agricultural interests who would get more cheap water while ratepayers and taxpayers foot an ever-escalating bill. They would rather spend $2.4 billion to strengthen the levees, reduce the amount of water taken from the delta, route fresh water through the delta to help restore it, and increase local water supplies and improve water conservation.

Restore the Delta predicts the actual cost of Brown’s delta plan will be closer to $61.5 billion and that the costs will not be picked up by agricultural users, as advertised.

“It is simply too costly for agriculture to absorb,” according to Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. “Urban users will have to pick up a larger share of the cost than they have been told.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Experts Analyze Costs of Peripheral Tunnels: Cost Estimate Has Tripled Already (Restore the Delta)

Delta Tunnels: Firmer Cost Estimates Spelled out for Gov. Jerry Brown’s Water Plan (by Paul Burgarino and Steven Harmon, San Jose Mercury News)

Cost of Bay Delta Tunnel Project Could be $9,000 a Household (by Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

California Plan to Overhaul Water System Hub to Cost $25 Billion (by Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times)

5 in Congress Want State to Fire Official Who Allegedly Dissed Own Delta Conservation Plan (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Analysis of the Cost of a Bay-Delta Conveyance Structure: Rate Impacts to Los Angeles (by Ed MacMullan, Ann Hollingshead and Paul Thoma, ECONorthwest) (pdf)

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