Claims that the proposed surface water project will benefit aquatic life in the delta and protect us from impending regulatory fines are red herrings. The project likely will degrade water resources in the delta, but only slightly.
The project will use Sacramento River water to meet a portion of our water needs. As a consequence, concentrations of salt and selenium in our wastewater discharge would be reduced. But the project will take a significant amount of water out of the Sacramento River, much of it never to be returned. That fresh water is more valuable if left in the river. The water is more than enough to mitigate the slight impact of our wastewater discharge, and water managers would have flexibility to use it as needed.
Forward-thinking regulators will understand the value of this water, and the city should be able to negotiate future discharge requirements by agreeing to leave all or part of its water in the river. This arrangement would be a net benefit to the environment, and the city should not face regulatory fines.
This project represents a huge investment. In my mind, the issues to debate are: the city’s needs to grow and attract industry, the reliability and expandability of our water supply to meet those needs, and our willingness to commit to water conservation and reuse.