A Better Idea, and Billions Cheaper
But the concept of importing less and developing more local supplies is compelling..And more local supplies mean more local control – and lower risks of cutbacks imposed by outside agencies in times of drought or other emergency
By U-T San Diego Editorial Board 6 P.M.JAN. 20, 2013
It doesn’t happen often enough, but now and then government comes up with a common-sense project that would do more with less and might actually get built. The San Diego County Water Authority, other big urban water districts and Mayor Bob Filner, backed by influential environmental organizations, went public with one last week.
The idea is an alternative to the massive project endorsed last summer by Gov. Jerry Brown to provide more Northern California water to Southern California and to restore the ecologically damaged Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at the same time by building two 37-mile tunnels – each larger than the “Chunnel” under the English Channel connecting Britain and France – beneath the delta. The twin tunnels alone would cost at least $14 billion, plus an additional $4 billion for associated restoration and storage projects.
The concept put forward by the county water authority, Filner, the other water agencies and the environmental groups – a remarkable alliance in itself – proposes a single, smaller tunnel under the delta. They say it could be built for $5 billion-$7 billion, with the billions in savings helping to pay for development of projects that many Southern California water agencies already have in their long-term plans to significantly increase the development of new local water supplies.
The reduced costs, the reduced environmental damage to the delta and the reduced reliance on imported Northern California water for Southern California consumers all give the scaled-back project a significantly increased chance of securing the required permits in the face of political opposition that has always been the big hurdle in California’s many water wars.
There is no doubt that San Diego and the rest of Southern California will need more water imported from the north in decades to come. But the concept of importing less and developing more local supplies is compelling.
The seawater desalination project now under construction in Carlsbad is but one example. The county water authority is also moving forward with planning for a possible second desalination plant on Camp Pendleton, and San Diego is considering development of a full-scale wastewater purification plant once studies of its current pilot project are complete.
Those are just three of some 50 projects already in the plans of water agencies throughout Southern California. Development of all them is unlikely, but a scaled-down delta project could help more of them get built. And more local supplies mean more local control – and lower risks of cutbacks imposed by outside agencies in times of drought or other emergency.
The only thing this new alliance is asking now is that the concept of the smaller project be fully studied in coming months as part of the environmental impact analyses required under state and federal law.
This should be a no-brainer. It should never be too late to study a promising idea