One of the biggest myths about the fight over Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to build the twin tunnels under the Delta is that it is a conflict between northern California and Southern California.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The conflict over the two gigantic twin tunnels is not between northern California and southern California, but instead between the great majority of Californians, both north and south, who oppose the tunnels and corporate agribusiness interests, developers, water privateers and corporate-backed politicians who support the project.
The growing opposition to the twin tunnels proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) was highlighted by a news conference in front of LA City Hall on Wednesday, December 18. Water ratepayers, community leaders and consumer groups spoke out against the tunnels project, claiming that it would raise rates and property taxes but bring no new water to Los Angeles.
Governor Jerry Brown and his staff have portrayed the BDCP as the “solution” to achieving the co-equal goals of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability. The 120-day public comment period for the 40,214 pages of BDCP documents released last week began on Friday, December 13.
“One calamitous storm or natural disaster — driven by climate change — could jeopardize the entire Delta, destroy its ecosystem and cut off water to 25 million Californians,” Brown claimed. “This agreement with our federal partners moves us another step closer to being more prepared for an uncertain future in California.”
Food & Water Watch, eight Los Angeles neighborhood councils, the Sierra Club, Southern California Watershed Alliance and Environmental Water Caucus Ratepayers and advocates strongly disagreed with Brown – and called on Mayor Garcetti, the Los Angeles City Council and LADWP to oppose “unfair rate hikes and property taxes” proposed to pay for the massive twin tunnels project.
The 35-mile long, 40-foot wide twin-tunnels project is estimated to cost between $25 and $54.1 billion, forcing Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to increase water bills and property taxes from $2,000-$4,500 per household, according to Food & Water Watch California Director Adam Scow. This “twin-tunnel tax” would not bring any new water to Los Angeles.
“At a time when Los Angeles is becoming more water efficient and using less water from the Delta, this twin-tunnel project would raise water bills and property taxes on Los Angeles homeowners and small businesses by at least $2,000 to subsidize more water for large corporate agribusinesses in Kern County and the Westlands Water District,” said Scow. “This plan is fundamentally unfair to Los Angeles taxpayers and ratepayers.”
Scow said the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s water plan calls for reducing its purchase of imported water from the Delta by 30 percent and increasing its local water supply through cost-effective measures such as replacing aging water pipes, cleaning groundwater, and expanding water recycling.
“Yet large corporate agribusinesses in Kern County and the Westlands Water District support the tunnels on the condition that they will secure massive amounts of water from the Delta for themselves and continue to be subsidized by taxpayers and ratepayers in Los Angeles and throughout southern California,” emphasized Scow.
“It’s wrong and unfair for Los Angeles ratepayers to subsidize new tunnels for corporate interests when we already need to invest billions in fixing and upgrading our local water infrastructure,” said Ed Begley, actor and environmental advocate. “We need to clean our local water supply and create local jobs – not waste billions on a wasteful tunnel project.”
An independent cost-estimate of the tunnels done by ECONorthwest for Food and Water Watch and the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) shows that LADWP would need to increase water bills from $7-15 per month for over 40 years or $2000-$4,500 per household to fund its cost share of the tunnels, according to Scow.
Furthermore, with rising energy prices, delays, and cost overruns – common in large-scale construction projects – the costs to Angelinos could be significantly higher. ECONorthwest projects that the real cost of constructing the tunnels would be $17 billion in 2017, the earliest year that construction would begin.
“In a tough economy, we know that ratepayers can only afford to pay so much,” said Chris Sales, Board President of the Northridge South Neighborhood Council. “The Northridge South Neighborhood Council, which represents 20,000 Angelenos, encourages Mayor Garcetti and the City Council to oppose this wasteful project and prioritize investments that create local jobs and protect our environment.”
“The North Hollywood North East Neighborhood Council, representing 25,000 residents, opposes the twin-tunnels – a project that would raise our water bills and property taxes but deliver no additional water,” said Board President Ernie Moscoso. “We call on Mayor Garcetti and the City Council to oppose this unfair tunnel tax and prioritize investments that expand our local water supply.”
LADWP has projected that billions of dollars are needed to replace its aging system of pipes and water mains, and billions more to expand water recycling and to clean a large aquifer in the San Fernando Valley, according to the groups. A recent poll from the L.A. Times showed that when told about the costs of the tunnels, a majority of Californians opposed the project.
Conner Everts, Executive Director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance, also slammed the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, representing a growing movement of Los Angeles Basin environmentalists who are opposed to Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels.
“This project is an unfair tunnel tax will raise our water bills but give us no new water,” said Everts, who grew up steelhead and trout fishing in Southern California streams. “Los Angeles needs to invest in local infrastructure and local jobs first.”
Everts also noted that Southern California is on the path to taking less imported water. “If we continue with the illusion that there will be more water, we aren’t facing the reality of our water supply, or investing in water conservation jobs for Southern California,” he stated.
Increasing numbers of columnists and editors from the Los Angeles Times and other Southern California newspapers have criticized the tunnel plan also.
On December 15, LA Times columnist George Skelton exposed how Governor’s Brown’s use of the “threat” of a “catastrophic earthquake” on the Delta to justify the construction of the twin tunnels is based on a “shaky rationale.”
Skelton also had a solution to the tunnels. “Before spending $16 billion boring oversize tunnels and mucking up people’s lives, how about this? Try modern fish screens. Relocate the pumps so they don’t reverse river flows. Take the water after it flushes through the delta,” he said.