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Brown Touts Delta Tunnel Plan in State of the State Speech

Jan 25, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown called for renewed support for his Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta tunnel plan
Credit Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Governor Jerry Brown reiterated his pitch to shore up California’s water supply in his State of the State address Thursday.  But Brown’s proposal to spend $14 billion dollars on water received no response from lawmakers during a packed joint session.

As KPCC’s Julie Small reports, his message is really for consumers—and the agencies that supply water to them.

Jerry Brown’s efforts to protect the state’s water supply began 30 years ago when he got the legislature to approve a peripheral canal to divert water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California. Voters in the north saw the plan as a southern water grab—and defeated it at the ballot box. Now Brown’s backing a plan that won’t have to swim upstream.

Brown: “My proposed plan is two tunnels, 30 miles long and 40 feet wide, designed to improve the ecology of the Delta, with almost 100 square miles of habitat restoration. Yes, that’s big but so is the problem.” 

That big plan has a big price tag too: an estimated $14 billion for the tunnels, plus $5 billion to operate them. So who foots the bill?  The people who use the water, says Richard Stapler with the California Natural Resources Agency.

Stapler: “About 23 million people around the state who get their water at least partially or wholly from the Delta.”

That’s consumers in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, and in Los Angeles and San Diego. Brown said the plan is designed to protect the Delta’s waster supply from an earthquake, a hundred year storm or a rise in sea levels.

Stapler: “So it’s a massive part of the state, and a really very important part of maintaining and growing our economy is keeping this water supply secure and reliable.”

Consumers pay—but they don’t get to decide whether to build the Governor’s tunnels. Water suppliers make that call…and pass the cost on to their customers. Jeffrey Kightlinger is with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Kightlinger: “The actual cost to consumers in Southern California would be something in the range of a little over $5 a month.”

Kightlinger says this isn’t a new concept.  Water agencies ponied up to build the state water works back in the 1960’s—a project Jerry Brown’s father Governor Pat Brown championed.

Kightlinger: “We paid for that. The state of California issued the bonds, and the water agencies signed contracts committing to pay off those bonds and it was a long-term,  75-year commitment.  So this is kind of a repeat of that 1960’s strategy that Pat Brown put in play.”

Consumers have some say in the matter:  they elect representatives to their local water boards.

The General Manager for the Long Beach Water Department declined to comment on Brown’s plan, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power did not immediately return calls.

The project would have to complete environmental impact reports and win a host of state and federal permits, before construction can begin.