California has been considering creative solutions to their water crisis for over a decade. The ambitious plan to build two large water tunnels under the West’s largest estuary has been labeled too expensive by the water utilities that would take the brunt of the cost. An article written by Matt Weiser details the support and opposition of the hefty project.
The $17 billion dual-tunnel project is intended to create a bypass for freshwater exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an estuary that provides freshwater for 25 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland. Instead, a cheaper and a lower-risk investment option to build one tunnel instead of two is back on the table for consideration.
“On October 17, the board of directors of the Santa Clara Valley Water District unanimously rejected the $17 billion twin-tunnel project, known as WaterFix, and instead expressed support for a smaller, single-tunnel alternative. The district serves more than 1 million people in Silicon Valley.” (Matt Weiser)
The single tunnel concept was recently endorsed by Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. Additionally, the Public Policy Institute of California in conjunction with the State Department of Water Resources also support the less expensive single tunnel option. To the surprise of many it wasn’t environmental groups around the water industry proposing this single tunnel option rather an expert at another Bay Area water utility with extensive experience in larger water projects.
“We told them back in 2007 that the right thing to do was build one tunnel, and see if it works,” said Greg Gartrell, who was then assistant general manager at Contra Costa Water District and is now retired. “If you need two tunnels later on, do that. But if you do two tunnels right up front, you’re basically stranding an asset. Half your investment is doing nothing for you.” (Matt Weiser)
The state estimated in 2013 this single-tunnel alternative would cost $8.6 billion – about $8 billion less than the dual tunnels. The state must consider factors including water quality problems and the disruption of native fish and their habitat. A project with a hefty price tag of $8 Billion isn’t quite ready to move forward yet with the Department of Water Resources still officially tied to the $17 billion dual-tunnel project. More investigation and deep analysis is necessary to determine the success of one tunnel…until then both projects are feeling like a pipe dream.