Delta tunnel project would secure California’s water future


By Jennifer Pierre, Special to CalMatters,

The Delta Conveyance Project is a necessary investment to secure California’s water future. Let’s face it, our climate is changing rapidly and becoming more unpredictable – wildfires are larger and more frequent, the seas are rising, droughts are lasting longer and storms are fiercer. The need for this project has never been clearer.  

Delta conveyance is the movement of water through the network of waterways in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub of the State Water Project – California’s most critical water delivery infrastructure. Two-thirds of California’s water begins its journey as snowmelt from high in the Sierra Nevada, eventually flowing into the Delta where the State Water Project infrastructure conveys the water to 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland from Silicon Valley down to San Diego.

But the State Water Project’s 1960-era infrastructure is aging and needs to be upgraded to meet the challenges ahead. As we’ve seen in recent years, the state’s precipitation is increasingly coming in the form of big storms in-between extended dry periods. The State Water Project infrastructure must be improved to be more resilient to climate change and more flexible in its ability to take advantage of big storms by moving water when it’s wet for use when it’s not.

The Delta Conveyance Project would add new conveyance facilities in the Delta, including two new intakes located farther north, away from sensitive fish habitat and 20 feet above sea level. The project also includes a state-of-the-art single tunnel underneath the Delta to safely convey water from the new intakes to the existing State Water Project facilities in the south Delta. 

Not only would this help ensure the continued delivery of affordable, clean water to millions of residents throughout the state, it would minimize impacts to threatened and endangered fish species and is compatible with ecosystem restoration projects already underway.

In addition to the increased water security and environmental benefits the Delta Conveyance Project would provide, it would also help maintain California’s $5 trillion economy – the fifth largest in the world – and is particularly important for the approximately 1,500 disadvantaged communities throughout the state that rely on the State Water Project for affordable, clean water.

The proposed project is a crucial part of the governor’s portfolio approach to water management and will help California water agencies develop their local water supply projects and reduce future reliance on imported supplies. That’s because the consistent delivery of State Water Project water allows public water agencies to blend high-quality water with local sources to meet or exceed drinking water standards, making the most of our state’s limited water resources. State Water Project water is also used to replenish groundwater basins, fill Southern California reservoirs and support recycled water projects.

California depends on the State Water Project. Without it, California would need to replace about 3 million acre-feet of high-quality water annually to meet state demand. That is enough water to serve approximately 6 million households per year.

California water agencies, policymakers and think-tanks have been studying the need for this project for more than a decade. All that work points to the same conclusion: we need a Delta conveyance solution that will reinforce State Water Project infrastructure with modern, flexible operations.

We must address what we have all known for decades: the risk of a devastating statewide water shortage is unacceptable, and time is of the essence. The Delta Conveyance Project is a game-changing modernization of California’s aging water delivery infrastructure that will be paid for by the participating public water agencies that receive water from the State Water Project – not taxpayers. It will ensure we can continue to efficiently move water statewide to keep taps flowing for generations to come.

We fully support the Newsom administration as it moves forward with the Delta Conveyance Project planning process and the public water agencies who are currently considering their ongoing participation in the project. The cost of doing nothing is far too high.


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