‘New’ Delta plan rehashes old plans from 1950s and 70s

Swamp Water movie poster 1Jan. 24, 2013

by Wayne Lusvardi

Just as Hollywood often remakes old movies, water engineers apparently rehash old forgotten plans to refashion the Sacramento Delta.  And then the proponents call these plans “new” and “cheaper” alternatives.

Water engineer Robert Pyke has gotten a lot of media attention recently for his  “Delta Tunnel Alternative Plan.”  Pyke’s plan is called the Western Delta Intakes Concept.  Pykes plan:

* Was proposed at the eleventh hour after $150 million had recently been spent on Delta studies.  Pyke’s plan ignores the 1,051 comments received by the Delta Stewardship Commission about alternative concepts for conveyance of water through the Delta;

* Is supported by a northern California water lobby, Restore the Delta, disguised as an environmental advocacy organization;

* Also has a tunnel concept.  Any above-ground canal would require very high embankments to protect the canal if a Delta island became inundated, and would have to be very wide to provide support;

* Has no detailed cost estimate other than the unsubstantiated and self-serving claim by Pyke that it is a cheaper alternative.  A similar plan studied in 1997 was two to three times the cost of an isolated eastern canal;

* Even if it had lower construction costs it would likely mean more pumping costs;

* Would likely mean more salinity, resulting in lower quality exported water and higher downstream water treatment costs;

* A key component of Pyke’s plan — a permeable fish screen — would eventually silt up and be useless.  A prior 1997 plan to use the Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel to divert water did not provide sufficient “fishery benefits”;

* Would likely result in seepage on adjacent islands resulting in damages to landowners;

* Would eliminate reverse-flow impacts in the central and south Delta, but would not supply fresh water into the extreme eastern Delta.

The Pyke plan calls for a water intake in the western Delta near higher elevated uplands and intertidal areas.  It would be analogous to depending on water only during unusually high tides, instead of on water at low tides. Pyke’s plan is a thinly disguised way for Northern California water interests to keep more water in the Delta by only exporting water to Southern farms and cities when there is a very wet year. Pyke’s alternative would still leave farmers and Southern cities at the mercy of the rainfall cycle.  Thus, it would do little to solve so-called “climate change.”

And this “new” plan is just a rehash of several plans proposed from the 1950s up to 2008.

Swamp water movie poster 2Rehash of old plans

Pyke’s plan apparently is an undisclosed rehash of:

* The 1957 and 1960 proposed Western Delta salinity control facilities authorized under the State Department of Water Resources Bulletin No. 60 in compliance with the Abshire-Kelly Salinity Control Barrier Act of 1957;

* The Montezuma Hills Canal Plan of 1977;

* The “isolated conveyance alternative 3G” proposed in 1997 as part of the old CALFED Delta Plan;

* The Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel plan proposed by the Department of Water Resources in 2001;

* The Isolated Conveyance Plan for a proposed isolated conveyance as part of the Record of Decision (ROD) of the CALFED plan 2008.

Pyke’s plan is anything but new. And like all plans for refashioning the Sacramento Delta, it has already been “studied to death.”

If the current Bay Delta Conservation Plan does not pass a cost-benefit test, Pyke’s Western Delta Intakes Concept would be even less-cost effective. Even if it were a cheaper alternative, it would only deliver water sporadically on an unplanned basis. It would put Central Valley farmers and Southern California cities in a permanent state of drought.

In short, there would be no reliable water supply from such a plan.  Without a dependable water supply, farmers could not get financing to produce crops.  And there would likely be hidden costs, such as higher pumping and water treatment costs and increased need for downstream water banks and conjunctive use basins.

New plan does not provide a solution

Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition commented on Jan. 17 on his blog:

 “This is not a new proposal. It has been part of the project review documented all the way back to last March and can be found here. Proponents of this “new” proposal have taken the current two-tunnel project and cut it in half to only one, reducing its ability to deliver water to farms that need it now and to meet the future needs of cities later, as the article describes. They’re also proposing a reduced ecosystem restoration program in the Delta, cutting back more costs but also reducing the effectiveness of those projects for the environment. Under the guise of cost cutting they have dramatically swept aside years of study that have resulted in the two-tunnel proposal. On the eve of the plan’s formal announcement, this plan suddenly is being shopped as a new idea. It’s not.

“The ‘new’ proposal does not provide a solution to a broken water supply system that threatens our state. This editorial admits that it will not answer long-term needs. Water supply reliability has declined, affecting everyone from urban residents through higher water costs to the farmers that grow fresh fruit and vegetables destined for the grocery store.  The end result is fewer locally grown food choices and higher food costs, all at a time when the economy is just beginning to recover.

“Significantly absent from this group of environmental organizations and business groups are public water agencies that represent large areas of some of the state’s most productive farmland. Not surprising, this ‘new’ proposal would be devastating to farmers in California’s San Joaquin Valley, home to some of the most productive farmland in the world. 

“Planning for a reliable water supply must continue to move forward.  … [A] smaller approach that ignores the needs of California’s farm community is a step backwards and is the wrong choice for California.”

The newly proposed alternative Delta Plan is like watching the remake of an old popular Hollywood movie.  And this remake is way over budget and is flopping at the box office.

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