Stopping the Delta Twin Tunnels Train
by Gene Beley, CVBT Delta Correspondent STOCKTON October 8, 2013
• Attorneys lay out strategies • Dante Nomellini reveals “secret” to winning the Delta dogfight • Video interviews
John Herrick, general counsel for the South Delta Water Agency, believes the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) will self-implode because the economics aren’t beneficial to the clients of the large water districts in Southern California.
His counterpart at the Central Delta Water Agency, Dante Nomellini, is cautiously optimistic about halting the plan, with its massive 35-mile-long twin water tunnels at its heart.
He says, using the past history in his 45 years of dealing with water issues in California, “We’ve seen things fall apart.”
“If it’s on a bad footing, how will you sustain it?” he asked.
Mr. Nomellini said he has a “secret” strategy:
• Stop the BDCP from building the twin tunnels.
• If they build the tunnels, stop them from using them.
• Get the project abandoned.
They both stress that extra water is not available, and that they think the real reason for building the tunnels is to steal what water there is in dry years by using the governor’s emergency powers “just as they did in 1976-1977-1991 and 1992.”
“They will suspend all protections and grab the water even if it is not available,” Mr. Nomellini says.
“The BDCP contractors will steal all the Sacramento River water after they declare an emergency and the Delta will get nothing,” adds Mr. Herrick.
Mr. Nomellini contends that the BDCP water exporters’ plan is “to squeeze the watershed, which they are already doing.”
“They will take land out of production,” he says. “They are already buying land in the Delta that will go idle. They are squeezing our water rights — attacking us across the board in the Delta. They’ve got us registering our diversions. They are clamping down on our discharges and they will try to take over the groundwater basins. That’s got to be their game plan or it doesn’t make any sense.”
The twin tunnels, if built, might cost as much as $54 billion, when interest on borrowed money is added to the basic construction costs. The plan is to suck fresh water out of the Sacramento River before it flows naturally into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and tunnel it to the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project for shipment south of the Delta.
Video interview with John Herrick here
Video interview with Dante Nomellini here
The Delta Dogfight
“It’s a dog fight,” Mr. Nomellini says. “Water is funny in California. There’s not much of an ethical proposition with water. It is a very adversarial process. I describe our adversaries as the dog that has been killing the chickens — like in the Owens Valley and all the rest…,” he trailed off. “The trouble is the Delta looks like the chickens. We have no choice but to fight, or that dog will kill us.”
Mr. Herrick believes the Southern California water agency exporters are “leading their clients into ruination.” He thinks the businessmen-farmer clients are going to wise up and say, “That’s not what you told me.”
“And then it will all come crumbling down,” Mr. Herrick says.
“I don’t think the BDCP exporters have anything written down,” Mr. Herrick says, “but if we have this water in our control in five, 10 or 20 years, someone is going to want it for a lot of money — which is true.”
Mr. Herrick also feels the bottom line economic issues to BDCP clients will probably control the eventual outcome.
Cost of water
“Whatever the square footage and the cost of water turns out to be (if the twin tunnels get built), it is in excess of what anyone will pay if they are not getting more water,” says Mr. Herrick.
“Say you’re getting 5,000 acre-feet now. With the twin tunnel project, you’ll get 10,000, but it will double your cost. Some might say ‘Maybe.’
“But you can’t say you’ll get 5,000 now and 5,000 acre feet later and I want you to double your annual payment to us. That decreases their bottom line.
“Kern County Water Agency is an example. Their payment to the state for their contract for this fiscal year is approximately $140 million. If you divide a $15 billion project (this estimate is on the very low side), that is only their part amongst those supporting BDCP — the ones who would get the benefit. Kern County’s share is $150 million additional,” he says.
“At some point somewhere a businessman farmer member of one of those agencies will stand before the people saying to ‘sign here’, and he will say, ‘explain that to me again. After all that talk about the benefits we were going to get and we’re probably going to get the same amount of water or less and you want us to double our yearly payment?’’
“It’s impossible!” says Mr. Herrick. “But just because I say that, it doesn’t make it true,” he adds with a laugh. “But it’s that fundamental problem that can not be overcome. The BDCP can try to get federal money and they are doing that. They are trying to get $3-$4 billion from the feds — more than the Central Valley Water Project has ever gotten in a five year period, let alone one year. The BDCP is trying to get State Water Board money. If you cannot afford the water, you can’t go forward with the project. And why would you go forward with the project if you don’t get more water?”
Mr. Herrick says the world now understands the BDCP contractors are liars and cheaters about their economics analysis. He says it is almost laughable how they changed the calculations so it would come out better when the world discovered their end result was saying there was a benefit by not getting more water.
Mr. Herrick calls University of the Pacific economist Jeff Michael’s BDCP financial critiques of their work “just wondrous to read because they are so complete, scientific, detailed, and correct.” Mr. Michael wrote an op-ed for the Oct. 6 edition of the Sacramento Bee that stated, “The $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan is on the brink of failure. Its proponents have been unable to show that the plan meets environmental requirements, and they have failed to develop a viable financial plan for its massive water-conveyance tunnels.”
He added that the BDCP plan could only be saved if the “state drops its tunnel vision and seriously considers no-tunnel options.” He said that would lower the BDCP construction cost by $20 billion.