The proposed Delta Conveyance Project (tunnels) will, if built, be only a short term, 30- to 50-year solution and most likely rendered useless and a waste of money. It’s likely being undertaken now by the water exporters because it addresses all their problems permanently and dissociates them from any future Delta issues. They also have the best chance of getting it permitted and approved. Let me explain.
I believe climate change is happening, it is only the time scale you can debate. We all see the videos of the polar ice caps disappearing, our temperatures rising, and regional weather changing. We can all have this big debate, but with brains chiming in all over the world, I suspect even the biggest skeptics are starting to crack. I will argue with people whether it’s a problem within the next 30 years or the next 200 years, but make no mistake, things are going to change. Just follow the insurance companies and the risk managers. They are already preparing, and so are some of the people in our state.
So pick your time period, but the oceans are rising and there is going to be a decision about whether the California Delta is allowed to become a saltwater marsh, or whether there is some type of gate system put in place with locks around the gates to support shipping. I have talked with some of the state experts and at least for now, privately, this is a decision we should be thinking about.
Let’s hypothesize for now that we would like to keep the Delta as fresh water, to support local farmers who use the fresh water for their businesses and to keep the ecosystem more intact with the way it is today as fresh water. So over a period of years, gates and locks will be built on different parts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River and perhaps on some key sloughs and minor rivers like Dutch Slough and False River, to keep the salt water out. I believe the gates could be operated in a clever way to support fish runs and mimic tides in the Delta. In times of drought, the gates could control salinity intrusion. Waters would flow, and the Delta’s fresh-water habitat would be continued.
So what would this gated Delta environment mean if we already put in the Delta Conveyance Project Tunnels that are being proposed for construction now? Basically, a gated Delta renders the tunnels useless. With the gated Delta controlled and maintained for fresh water, the export pumps have no problem getting good water and there is no problem with salinity intrusion. The tunnels are of little use. They will end up being a colossal waste of money.
Will we be able to afford the gated solution after we spend billions on the Delta Conveyance Project? Maybe not. The political pressure will be to delay the gates. The delay might result in more time where salt is allowed to intrude the Delta. There is a chance that supporting the Delta Conveyance Project today sets the path for the Delta to become a saltwater marsh, if politicians don’t have the stomach to render the tunnels useless in the future.
You see, the exporters don’t care about the Delta. Once they have their tunnel, they are set for the future with their water take being far up the Sacramento River. One gate and lock just below their take will project their water, but render the Delta to be a salt water marsh. So for the exporters, the current Delta Conveyance Project is the end game for them. Once it is done, they are set, really. Their interests are no longer aligned with the Delta. The Delta can turn into a saltwater marsh and they do not care. If they don’t care and their source of funding from the water agencies is out of the mix, will the state find funds to save the Delta from becoming a saltwater marsh? Probably not, they will be worried about protecting millions of people living in low elevation urban areas all around the Bay.
So the point is, choosing the Delta Conveyance Project today is raising the chance that the Delta one day will be a saltwater marsh. We should probably be focusing on gates and locks as the solution today to save the Delta to be more how it is today with its wildlife and agriculture.
Bethel Island resident and engineer