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Economist: Twin tunnels may be Delta death knell
Corey Cate and Diana Wood straighten out the lawn sign posters that Restore The Delta sold at the annual Shine a Light on the Delta benefit Thursday evening at The River Mill in French Camp. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

FRENCH CAMP –Jeffrey Michael thought of the people at “Restore the Delta” as a “bunch of hippies” when they first papered his car with their mantra.

And he didn’t give the cause that they were fighting much more thought than he normally did. It could be said, that as the Director of the Business Forecasting Center and as an Associate Professor at the Eberhardt School of Business at the University of the Pacific, that he spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about water and other components of regional policy.

More and more of that policy has shifted towards the “peripheral tunnels” – a Jerry Brown-envisioned project that would pipe fresh Sacramento River water into massive bores and pipe them underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to waiting aqueducts where the water would be delivered to farmers in the Southern San Joaquin Valley and eventually residents of Los Angeles.

That’s where Michael comes in.

After all, much of his research has been done on the economic impacts of environmental policies such as the Endangered Species Act, sea-level rise, greenhouse gas controls and land preservation – areas that could be seen as overlapping with the goals that Restore the Delta – so he couldn’t get too far away from the local group that had started to make serious inroads in the communities he covers.

And he made a few waves when he talked about unemployment rates in the Central Valley and how they were either due to a fish – the oft-published Delta Smelt – or foreclosure. Fallow fields down in the southern portion of the San Joaquin Valley, he said, was proof of this playing out.

In a column that he penned for the Sacramento Bee that was printed earlier in the week, Michael – an economist by trade – talked openly Thursday about a no-tunnel Bay Delta Conservation Plan that would focus on the substantial levee improvements that are needed (at a cost of roughly $5 billion, 80 percent less than the current proposal). They could be paid for by a water bond (that would likely pass since the tunnel concept would be out the window by this point).

“The tunnel-focused plan does not make financial sense, creates new environmental risks and has negative impacts on Delta communities,” Michael wrote. “Fortunately, a no-tunnel Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a viable option to enhance endangered species, while bringing valuable regulatory stability to water agencies at an affordable cost.”

The night at The River Mill – which drew hundreds of guests – is the annual benefit that the organization, which has grown to become one of the largest in the State when it comes to fighting the Governor’s plan, holds to restock the proverbial war chest.

And support, said Stina Va of Restore the Delta, is crucial when taking on something as massive as the peripheral pipe proposition.

“We get a support from all over – the agricultural community, the environmental lobby, local sport fishing groups and even groups in Southern California support us,” she said. “Their support is everything at an event like this, because fighting anything takes money. It’s a very important piece of the puzzle, and we couldn’t operate the way that we do without their support.”

The organization also accepts monthly donations through its website Additional information can also be found on Facebook at delta and on Twitter at @restorethedelta.