Rep. John Garamendi on Saturday blasted the proposal to build two tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta touted by Gov. Jerry Brown in his State of the State Address.
“That’s not a water plan, that’s a plumbing system — and a very, very bad one,” said Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, before about 300 people at the ninth-annual California Water Symposium at UC Davis.
“Don’t ever build something that has the potential for destroying something so special, so valuable as the largest estuary on the west coast, which is the Delta. We need to move beyond just a plumbing system. We need to think about what California really needs.”
Speaking on Thursday, Brown said an earthquake, a 100-year storm or rising sea level could be disastrous for the state, with losses of $100 billion and 40,000 jobs.
His proposal: two tunnels 30 miles long, from Clarksburg to Tracy, and 40 feet wide paired with 100 square miles of habitat restoration.
“Yes, that is big but so is the problem,” Brown said.
Estimated cost: $14 billion, which the governor noted was about the cost of the London Olympics.
“I told Gov. Brown, ‘If you are successful, it will be two decades before you get a gallon of water through your tunnels,’ ” Garamendi said after his keynote address. “First of all, you’ve got 10 years of lawsuits — guaranteed. Then you’ve got 10 years of construction. So what are you going to do in the meantime?”
Added Garamendi during his speech, referring to voters rejection of the Peripheral Canal Act, “We beat Jerry Brown in ’82, and we’ll beat him this time if necessary.”
Garamendi said he planned to introduce in two to three months legislation that would put federal agencies on the same page when it comes to the state’s water.
His envisions a comprehensive water plan, similar to one put forth by the environmental nonprofit the National Resources Defense Council, for the state that includes recycling, conservation, increased water storage, Delta levee repair and river management guided by the latest science.
His approach would be cheaper, he said, and would generate quicker results.
“Why would you transport water 500 miles (south), clean it, use it once to a higher standard than the day it arrives, and dump it in the ocean? That’s what we do. We need to think differently about water,” he said.
He said that he believed 2 million acre feet of “new” water can come from recycling and conservation. By comparison, the congressman said, “The twin tunnels give you zero new water — not one gallon of new water comes from the tunnels.”
Garamendi said new water storage is needed both south and north of the Delta. “Storage facilities in Southern California have a greater capacity than Shasta Reservoir. Most of them are not used because they are contaminated, but they can be cleaned,” he said.
Without more storage, the increased water pumped south would be largely wasted, the congressman said:
“Some of the terms that are being used by some of my environmental friends are ‘big gulp and little sip.’ You’ve got a lot of water, you take a big gulp, but where are you going to put it?”
North of the Delta, the proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, shows promise for increasing flexibility along the Sacramento River, he said. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has deemed a proposal to increase the size of Lake Shasta by raising Shasta Dam feasible, but the plan has been more controversial.
Garamendi favors a smaller Delta facility than Brown — perhaps 3,000 cubic feet per second capacity, compared to 15,000 cubic feet per second for the governor’s plan.
“A quick look at the water flow of the Sacramento River over the past two decades would tell you that for approximately six months of the year there is somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic feet per second on the Sacramento River flowing past Freeport. And you’re going to build a 15,000 cubic feet per second facility and not destroy …?”
Garamendi trailed off and shook his head.
He’s also calling for the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Water Resources to better maintain Delta levees that protect the water system, agriculture and homes. For decades, he said, they’ve relied on local agencies for upkeep or state and federal agencies if there’s flooding.
The congressman said a study of the American River basin will soon provide a better ability to manage flood capacity and protection on that river. That should be done for every river in the state, he said, rather than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s method of controlling water based on 50-year precipitation and flow numbers.
The UCD School of Law hosted Saturday’s symposium.