BDCP and the path of least resistance
Wyatt Buchanan reports that the BDCP is recommending 15,000 cfs worth of tunnel under the Delta. Funny how that pile of BDCP documents should come out the same day Nunes gets his 15 minutes of fame. Apparently some info dumping moments are just better than the generic late Friday afternoon I guess…
The BCDP Big Tunnel option provides the most flexibility for water extraction, and least flexibility for Delta ecosystem health management. It is therefore the worst possible option the BDCP could have chosen, both for the Delta’s and California’s future.
Let me break that down.
1/ Unlike an apples-to-apples Peripheral Canal (which I am okay with, assuming it is built as a flexible, water management option-intensive system of canals, siphons, and off-ramps), this option (yes, we know, technocrats - you *haven’t committed to anything, yet*) provides essentially no ecosystem management tools to the DWR, except the very crude one of how much water volume gets extracted in the North Delta.
And we know that with time, given the availability of water and the processes of capitalism, that volume will be maxed out, with no place to go except to the pump forebays. And once that maxed-out moment occurs, Nunes’s successor will be pounding his fist into a podium somewhere, proposing to overturn settled law so that his masters can jump the line, like Jerry at the Pinkberry shop.
2/ Unlike choosing an apples-to-apples sized Peripheral Canal, this option DOES NOT introduce any immediate or impending constraint to development, nor incentive toward agricultural water conservation, toxic land fallowing or buyout, It is, plain and simple, a perpetuation of the delusion of the Land of Plenty myth. A capitulation to capital, and a choice to ignore the inevitability of scarcity.
This is a hazardous decision. It perpetuates the idea that the state can build its way out of its water supply problems just by building more infrastructure. And at $26B (and rising), in a state that forces its university professors to pay for their own copies, that is closing battered women’s shelters, state parks, and that cut $18B from public schools since 2009, it seems fair to ask: where are your fracking priorities?
By choosing this option, the BDCP provides a map to the path of least political resistance, a backward-in-time map to the postwar years of “build, baby, build.” Minimized painful, contentious land takings. The misleading sense that there is plenty of water. A have-it-both-ways strategic ambiguity about the effect on the Delta’s endangered salmon and steelhead.
And a project cost of $26B that is presented as a moving target, premature for cost/benefit review, etc. The cost will at least double - just look what the Cato Institute has to say about Boston’s Big Dig - also a Big Tunnel project. Not that I’m a fan of the Cato Institute, but it is accurate to say that many big infrastructure project costs at least double.
One of the things that is truly fascinating about California water policy is that it is debated and made more or less in the light of day. That is good. It gives people like me information from which to draw conclusions and recommendations.
It would be good if some semi-neutral (that’s about as close as it gets to objectively so) institution, probably public TV, organizes a series of debates about the future direction of water policy, infrastructure development, state budget constraints, and state tax policy. Because right now, the BDCP proposal is being floated in a kind of water geek (populated by people like me) vacuum, and it needs to get much wider attention. It needs to be placed in a broader context of decision-making, value-articulating debate.
edited for clarity, March 3