Specifics Still Awaited On Delta Plan’s High Costs; Friant Benefits Remain Unidentified
Fixing and re-plumbing the troubled Delta environment and water conveyance system would cost more than $19.7 billion with water users to be on the hook for the $14.5 billion portion related to construction of water facilities.
That includes twin tunnels to move export flows under the troubled estuary.
What that might mean for the Friant Division’s Central Valley Project contractors, however, remains elusive and frustrating – considering that no tangible benefits have been identified that might result for users of the Friant-Kern and Madera canals.
A projected environmental restoration and water supply reliability price tag was contained in the final Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) draft chapters released May 29.
Capital costs are currently expected to reach $19.7 billion at today’s dollars. Some $4.1 billion would be for environmental and habitat improvements with $1.1 billion for various conservation measures.
The rest – $14.5 billion – would pay for the 35-mile-long twin tunnels, conceived to bypass Delta channels with water to be exported from existing pumping plants near Tracy to other parts of California, and other water facilities. The tunnels would begin south of Sacramento. They would improve overall water supply certainty, particularly along the San Joaquin Valley’s West Side where water shortages have routinely resulted from endangered species and other environmental concerns. The isolated conveyance would also improve the quality of water being exported to Central Valley Project and State Water Project aqueducts. Operation and maintenance are expected to total nearly $5 billion.
Thirty-two percent of the project’s financing would come from state and federal funding and 1% from interest income.
BENEFICIARIES TO PAY
It is the remaining 68%, envisioned to be paid for by water users supplied by CVP and SWP facilities depending upon Delta exports, that has the Friant Water Authority and its member agencies uneasy. Of particular concern is a general lack of detailed proposals about how various “beneficiaries” would fund the costly project. Some water agencies that make direct use of Delta water exports have suggested Friant should pay a major share.
“Friant supports the BDCP’s concepts because solutions must be implemented to eliminate or ease Delta water supply problems,” said Friant Water Authority General Manager Ronald D. Jacobsma. “However, all of the analysis we have thus far seen shows little or no water supply benefit to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, the Friant Division’s primary water supply link to the Delta,” Jacobsma said.
Friant’s CVP supply is actually San Joaquin River water diverted at Friant Dam, northeast of Fresno. It is made possible because the river’s historic water right holders, four West Side agencies known as the Exchange Contractors, are supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation with Delta water. The Exchange Contractors’ water is delivered with the highest San Joaquin Valley priority of any CVP water.
That supply is conveyed through the Delta-Mendota Canal from Tracy to Mendota Pool as a substitute for San Joaquin River water the Exchange Contractors’ West Side canals formerly diverted.
It is possible, based upon the same studies, that the CVP’s nine Cross Valley Canal contractors might benefit from new BDCP-built facilities. Those East Side agencies receive Delta water (or related exchange supplies or up-canal pumping in the lower Friant‑Kern Canal) through the California Aqueduct and Kern County’s Cross Valley Canal.
Also as yet left without answers to Friant contractors is how the BDCP and twin tunnels might benefit the San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s obligation to re-circulate or return a portion of flows to Friant districts after that water has been released from Friant Dam for habitat restoration.
COSTS AND BENEFITS
A state BDCP news release conceded, “An exact financing plan is not yet developed, but will be under discussion. Although the final federal and state allocation of costs and funding sources are yet to be determined, the BDCP assumes that California taxpayers would fund the state’s share of the non-conveyance costs primarily through passage of two general obligation bonds in future years.
State officials said continued Delta environmental degradation and potential levee failure due to earthquake damage, rising sea level or violent storms would have catastrophic consequences for California’s economy.
The BDCP is designed to meet co-equal goals mandated by the state’s 2009 Delta Reform Act:
- Restoring the Delta’s fragile ecosystem.
- Improving the reliability of water it supplies to two out of three Californians.
The BDCP is a natural community conservation plan under state law and a habitat conservation plan under federal endangered species law. It includes large-scale habitat restoration and the return of more natural flow patterns through the Delta. The report demonstrates net benefits over a 50-year period of approximately $5 billion for Governor Brown’s administration proposal for the agencies expected to pay the beneficiary costs. The tunnels are planned to have a capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second.
By comparison, the report says a conveyance facility of 3,000 c.f.s. touted by the environmental community would cost approximately $1 billion more than its total benefits to water users.