Will New Water Tunnel Tax Submerge Angelenos?

jake gittesIt’s still Chinatown, and like Jake, we can’t forget it. Tomorrow, the powerful Metropolitan Water District (known as Met) will vote to take the first step towards raising property taxes to help pay for Governor Brown’s coveted twin-tunnel project 350 miles north of Los Angeles at an estimated price tag of $50 billion. The tunnels would deliver more water to California’s biggest corporate agribusinesses and oil companies in the Central Valley, while Southern California taxpayers and ratepayers would get most of the bill and no new water.

The two billion-dollar questions are: will Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which sits on Met’s board, vote in favor of the tax hike, and if they do, will the mayor and city council allow LADWP to submerge Angelenos with this unfair tunnel tax?

Met imports water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and sells it to Southern California cities to supplement their water supply. Met has teamed up with the mighty corporate agribusinesses and oil companies who dominate the Kern County Water Agency and the Westlands Water District to push for the construction of two 35-mile, 40-foot tunnels to suck down the Sacramento River.

The tunnels represent the return of the Peripheral Canal, a nearly identical project that was backed by the same corporate interests and the same Governor and ultimately rejected by California voters in a historic referendum in 1982. Thirty years later, it’s deja vu as Governor Brown is back and again working to ram this project through at the behest of Kern, Westlands, and Met.

Contrary to popular belief, Southern California does not need more water from Northern California. Due to increased efficiency, Los Angeles uses overall less water today then it did in 1982 despite the population growth of 1.1 million people. LADWP’s water plan calls for buying less Met imported water, as it is getting more expensive, and increasing the local water supply, which is more cost effective.

LADWP is smartly planning to invest in local water development; most notably by cleaning up groundwater aquifers that are essential for capturing and storing storm water and increasing water recycling. In the next 20 years, LADWP plans to generate a sixfold increase in recycled water supplies to a total of 50,000 Acre-Feet per Year (AFY) and increase efficiency to save another 50,000 AFY. The cities of Santa Monica, Long Beach and others have similar goals. In recent years ,Met’s water sales have declined by approximately 30 percent. Thus, there is no real need for the tunnels by the people of Southern California. Met, however, wants us to subsidize its water grab.

aqueductSensing growing public concern about the enormous costs of the tunnels, Met is now considering raising property taxes. In a blatantly backdoor and undemocratic move, the Met board of directors will consider sticking Southern Californians with higher property taxes to pay for their tunnel dream. A study by EcoNorthwest, an independent economic analysis firm, illustrated that building and operating the tunnels would raise water bills in L.A. by an additional $9 to $16 per month for the next 40 years. Combined, that totals $1.6 to $5 billion of ratepayer money for a construction project 350 miles away. Now Met wants to shift some of those costs onto the homeowners.

This is especially outrageous when LADWP has over 1,000 water mains that break every year and already needs to spend billions to fix and upgrade its local infrastructure. Just this week, an Environmental Protection Agency survey ranked California as the state needing the most repairs to fix its crumbling water infrastructure in the country. We simply don’t have money to waste on new tunnels for special interests. These tunnels will do nothing to shore up LA’s dilapidated local infrastructure and it could actually pull funding away from local repairs to cover cost of an expensive conveyance.

brenna nortonSo far, LADWP has played along with Met’s scheme. Tuesday’s Met board meeting will reveal if they are going to side with their ratepayers and oppose the property tax scam, or side with Met.

It’s time for Southern Californians to fight back. We don’t need two gargantuan concrete tunnels siphoning water away from the state’s largest and most important estuary to slake the thirsts of wealthy agribusinesses and developers. We need more good local jobs, better plumbing for our city and more money – not less – in our own pocketbooks.

Brenna Norton
Food & Water Watch

Monday, 10 June 2013


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