The California Spigot: A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR CALIFORNIA; BDCP FAILS IN DRY AND WET YEARS
|BDCP average yearly exports would match those in the 1998-2002 period. Higher exports in 2003-2007are judged to have crashed fish populations in the Delta. Recent lower exports were aimed at saving the fish.|
Unlike in Santa Barbara, the BDCP does not claim to produce any new water for contractors. It calls for an historic average of water exports to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California of 5.3 million acre feet (maf). (One maf is enough to satisfy the needs of 6.7 million residents). But it claims to make the supply more “reliable.” There's that word again. By “reliable,” they mean pumps won't stop to protect thumb-sized smelt from getting chewed up in export operations in Tracy. On the other hand, the northern pumps might take out too many salmon. So who knows?
|New pathway (isolated facility) on right would have two 40-foot diameter tunnels carry export water 150 feet below the surface, from near Sacramento to Tracy's pumps.|
“The BDCP does not solve the dry year problem.” Greg Gartrell, assistant general manager with the Contra Costa Water District, told state water officials (agenda item 11, index 4) last month. “It doesn't matter how big the pipe is, if you haven't got water to put in it, you just don't get the water.” Gartrell said that during the increasingly likely three to six-year droughts due this century, only a fraction of the 9,000 cubic feet per second (csf) capacity would be used. “The tunnels will be sitting there idle, but you've still got a mortgage to pay.”
|Water levels (red line) hit the ceiling in the winter/spring of 2011 in San Joaquin Valley's main reservoir, causing export pumping to stop prematurely.|
But if history is any guide, export contractors have been unable to take the “big gulp” in very wet years on three or four different occasions since 1995, according to Gartrell. That's a lot of water lost to reservoirs that could cushion devastating drought. This year, for instance, after the driest January and February on record, and with pumping restrictions already in place, the state is lucky to have begun the year with high water levels still in reservoirs from recent wet years.