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For California water supply, $150 million spent to not solve the problem

California salmon run

Four years and $150 million into a major study of plans to re-engineer elements of California’s main source of water, a National Science Foundation review found the multi-billion-dollar proposal confused, poorly defined and inadequately researched.  That’s the gist of a piece by Gosia Wozniacka of The Associated Press picked up by the Riverside Press Enterprise.

Power brokers managing California’s fresh water supplies have long sought more access to the state’s two major rivers — the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. But taking too much water from the rivers creates all sorts of problems:

  • Reduced river volume raises the river’s temperature—potentially deadly for already strained fish species, upon which other animals, including human fishermen, rely.
  • Removing too much fresh water upstream allows salt water to intrude further upriver, altering wildlife habitat and endangering some municipal water supplies.
  • Using the massive delta pumps eviscerates fry and fingerling fish.

Environmental lawsuits have forced federal officials to shut down the pumps at certain times to protect endangered and dwindling fish species. In an effort to bypass all of the issues, officials several years ago formally revived the concept of the controversial peripheral canal, rejected by voters in the early 1980s.

The project, estimated at $9 billion for a canal or $11.7 billion for a tunnel, would bypass the delta by taking water directly from the Sacramento River upstream of the delta.

The National Science Foundation review found that the draft plan fails to delineate clear goals and does not offer any analysis of the project’s impact on the delta’s wildlife or the likely impact of the project on people dependent on the delta’s water in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Wozniacka writes that

The scientists found that it is unclear whether the main purpose of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is simply to build a canal or pipeline, or whether it is a broader plan that would restore and protect the delta ecosystem and provide a stable water supply.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes is quoted acknowledging that there is a potential for the “restoration goal to be compromised by the goal for reliable water supply.”

In other words, regardless of exactly where the water is removed from the river system, it stands to reason that the rivers, plants, fish and residential customers would be left with a smaller slice of the pie.

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