For over 50 years, the San Diego County Water Authority championed projects that bring water to Southern California from Northern California. But no more.
Leaders of the Water Authority look at Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to ensure water keeps flowing to Southern California with skepticism and dismissal.
The Water Authority now says it may turn its back on that whole endeavor and is, by some accounts, working to undermine the governor’s most important piece of unfinished business.
Brown wants to build two 35-mile underground tunnels to keep water coming south through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, a series of waterways and wetlands fed by snow melting in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The tunnels would be 150 feet underground. The price tag would be at least $17 billion.
The Water Authority used to pine for such a plan. Not so long ago, it handed out “Fix the Delta!” buttons and made a Delta fix its top legislative goal in 2009. A failure to come up with a solution was, its top officials once argued, cowardly and a threat to California’s entire economy.
But now the Water Authority seems emboldened by its ability to weather the most recent drought after spending over $3 billion on other water supplies and storage projects. It’s also wary of shocking ratepayers with even higher bills.
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The Carlsbad desalinization plant cost $1 billion and can provide 10% of San Diego's water needs. Scaled up you could provide 100% of San Diego's water for $10 billion. This is much less than the $17 billion estimated cost of the tunnels.
Obviously, you do not need to generate 100% of San Diego's water need via desal, but these calculations indicate that the tunnels are not cost efficient.
@Brian Edmonston Other people agree with the spirit of this point, but the math isn’t quite that easy. The tunnels may be $17 billion, but San Diego doesn’t pay that whole thing, it pays a share of that. What our share would be is a big unknown. Metropolitan believes it’s likely share would be 25% of the cost. San Diego, in turn, buys about 25% of Metropolitan’s water. That would suggest San Diego’s cost is closer to $1 billion (1/16 of $17 billion). This doesn’t take into account interest rates on debt (which is rarely used when discussing capital costs anyway), cost overruns (which can be expected) or ongoing operational costs (which are not fully known, in part because they depend on the price of energy, which is hard to foresee). By the same token, the $1 billion price tag for the desal plant doesn’t account for some of those same things, including the actual cost of the water, because that too depends on energy costs over time.
Based on your article, I understand the following to be true:
- San Diego gets its outside water from the Colorado River and not from Northern California.
- San Diego is Metropolitans largest customer (which seems odd as LA is also a customer).
- The current court decisions do not require San Diego to pay for Metropolitan Infrastructure
- The court decisions could be overturned, and if so San Diego could be on the hook for $1 billion or more.
- San Diego gets its water from both from Northern California and the Colorado River.
- LA as a region (including the numerous water districts in the county) uses more water than San Diego the region, but LA the city uses less Metropolitan water than San Diego the region, because LA and its Department of Water and Power has a few other sources of water, including water from the Owens Valley, a source of imported water often confused with Metropolitan water but that is not related to Metropolitan except insofar as people from LADWP went on to found Metropolitan.
- San Diego does have to pay for Metropolitan infrastructure on the water it buys directly from Metropolitan, which is still 41% of San Diego's water. The lawsuit is over how much San Diego has to pay Metropolitan for its infrastructure when San Diego uses Metropolitan's Colorado River Aqueduct to bring water to San Diego that San Diego buys from a non-Metropolitan source.
And what you don't understand is what a lot of people don't understand: How much wet water will the tunnels actually deliver. That question seems to be outstanding and could vary if, for instance, there were environmental restrictions on how much water could be brought south even if the tunnels were built.
Nice start to the conversation Ry.
A couple of missing facts:
1. Even in drought years 1/3 of California water starts out as snow pack.
2. Tunnels would allow for sending water south to be stored on very wet years. This would lower flood risk in Sacramento and store water (All be it in the Central Valley or SoCal) instead of sending it to the ocean.
3. The tunnels allow for a far more environmentally friendly uses of the delta. Currently the Sacramento River from Sacramento to Rio Vista is more of a canal than a river, with water moving too fast to be an asset to the environment.
So a couple of good benefits, but...
I'm worried that no one in State knows what the tunnels will cost. (Has the state ever came in under budget on a project?) The only sure bet it that it will cost more than they first tell us.