THE BLOG
06/19/2013 11:45 am ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

Governor Brown's Boondoggle

Governor Jerry Brown's case for his ruinously expensive and environmentally catastrophic Twin Tunnels project is devolving from the threadbare to the duplicitous.

The governor and his allies are desperately pushing this ill-conceived retread of the defunct Peripheral Canal as essential for reviving the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and bolstering the state's water security. It is clear that it will do neither.

We always knew the tunnels were going to be expensive, ecologically disruptive, a boon to the few, powerful and politically-connected and a burden to rank-and-file ratepayers. But now we know the administration is intent on pillaging critical programs to pay for them.

It's all there in the state's Revised Administrative Draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan - the working document that details just how this boondoggle will be funded. For those citizens interested in undertaking their own due diligence, Table 8.41 is particularly enlightening.

It shows that taxpayers will shoulder $7.7 billion of the estimated costs, while ratepayers - anyone who waters a petunia or washes a dish using state project water - will cough up $16.8 billion. Those are just principal outlays, by the way; interest is not included.

If interest and anticipated cost-overruns are folded in, total costs for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) could exceed $70 billion. Such project cost inflation is typical of state water projects, including the Coastal Branch of the California Aqueduct. This "feeder" canal to the Central Coast was originally estimated at $270 million. The final bill: $1.76 billion.

The Tunnels are also predicated on the passage of two water bonds, totaling $3.4 billion and amounting to 14 percent of project costs. These bonds will annually drain $220 million from the state's general fund for the next three to four decades.

But the table also shows that the administration plans to divert $25 million from the state Fish and Wildlife Department's Fisheries Restoration Grant Program--money that is dedicated to projects on coastal streams.

What this means is that the last source of funding for coastal salmon and steelhead restoration will be diverted to a project that will contribute significantly to the destruction of Bay/Delta fisheries.

How do we know the Twin Tunnels will adversely affect our salmon, Dungeness crab and sturgeon? It's not just the reams of data from reputable scientists. In an exchange between Bay Delta Conservation Plan point man Jerry Meral and California Water Impact analyst Tom Stokely, Meral admitted the BDCP has nothing to do with Delta conservation - implying it has everything to do with water conveyance.

Now, as Brown's funding strategies for the Tunnels are revealed, it is increasingly clear that "Delta conservation" is being used as a stalking horse to increase diversions of the north state's scant water to the corporate farms of the western San Joaquin Valley. Critical conservation programs are being sacked to prop up Brown's folly.

Even the most jaded Sacramento observer can't help but mark the bitter irony here: raiding funds earmarked to save coastal salmon to build a gargantuan diversion project that will further menace Central Valley salmon. All under the auspices of a "conservation plan," of course.

For those of us who follow the ebbs and flows of both water and power in California, the skewed logic behind the Twin Tunnels was evident from the start. Increasingly, the press and the public are turning a critical eye to this scam. Earlier this week, a flurry of lawsuits were filed against the Delta Plan. This is salutary: as the details of the project are exposed to the harsh light of public scrutiny, the outrage will grow proportionately.