It’s back to the future for Gov. Jerry Brown.
As he was heading into the final two years of his first eight years as governor back in 1981 a measure qualified for the ballot on whether to build the Peripheral Canal.
Now — 34 years later as he heads into the final two-year stretch of his second eight years as governor — Brown is facing yet another ballot measure that threatens to kill his reincarnation of his 1982 Peripheral Canal initiative to build the Twin Tunnels.
Stockton farmer Dean Cortopassi has set the stage for what could very well be Brown’s second political Waterloo by qualifying the “No Blank Check Initiative” for the November 2016 ballot.
The imitative if passed would require voter approval for any project financed with revenue bonds costing $2 billion or more. Brown — and his Twin Tunnels partners in the Metropolitan Water District and massive corporate farmers in Kern County eager to control as much water that is north of the Delta as possible — were opting to finance the project with revenue bonds knowing full well voters would likely never bless general obligation bonds for the divisive project that is expected to run between $17 billion and $54 billion depending upon who you want to believe.
Make no doubt about it. The Twin Tunnels project is about control given that it won’t generate one additional drop or store even one more ounce of water. Bypassing the Delta is good only for the water barons of the south state who raid water elsewhere to grow their crops and expand their cities.
But this isn’t the usual north-south split on water.
The biggest chunk of the 966,000 signatures came from San Bernardino County that is about as Southern California as you can get. The reason is simple. The people who will get stuck holding the bag on this one would primarily be south state urban water users. Some taxpayer groups in South California believe the cost could run as much as $90 per month for households in some locations.
It is why opponents of the measure are doing their best already to make the ballot measure appear to benefit “rich” farmers. They go out of their way to stress Cortopassi is a “wealthy” farmer. This comes from the people siding with massive corporate farming operations, the general manager of the MWD that is compensated over $400,000 annually, and Gov. Brown who isn’t exactly a pauper and apparently has been toying with the idea of drilling for oil on his massive Northern California ranch given how he got state experts to give him a free assessment of his land’s oil producing potential.
There is a perception that is fairly dead-on that Southern California residents will be left holding the bag for the revenue bonds and get no additional water in return save for a promise of “uninterrupted” supplies. The Twin Tunnels backers like to spin the doomsday scenario that some of the 1,100 miles of aging Delta levees will collapse in an earthquake cutting off water to Los Angeles for months and possibly years.
But that isn’t as straightforward as it seems.
It would take water that would normally flow almost all the way through the Delta where it supports an extensive ecological system to reach the pumps near Tracy before it starts its long trip south and diverting it before it practically reaches the Delta. That will increase salt water intrusion in wet years let alone drought years.
In order to replace that water, the pressure would be on to commandeer it from the San Joaquin River watershed. Do that and groundwater pumping for urban and farm uses will accelerate even more in the San Joaquin Valley.
That would mean the valley’s ground would sink even faster imperiling the California Aqueduct.
The odds of that happening are probably in the same league as levee failures during a major quake. In short the Twin Tunnels only marginally improves water reliability for the south state.
Besides the Bureau of Reclamation — the key water storage source for MWD and corporate farmers — hasn’t signed off on the Twin Tunnels plan. And they’d have a hard time doing so given that every water district south of the Twin Tunnels diversion spot that relies on the San Joaquin River watershed isn’t about to become the default water source for the state to meet court-ordered flows for fish in the Delta.
The various heavy construction profiteers and unions are squawking that the “No Blank Check Initiative” will also endanger other major state infrastructure projects that fuel corporate profits and temporary construction jobs.
Funny how California voters for the most part haven’t balked at approving state general obligation bonds to finance everything from freeways and schools to other water projects.
Prove there is a need that’s justified and California voters routinely tax themselves to pay for it.
That probably won’t be the case with the bill of goods dubbed the Twin Tunnel and backers of the two massive straws that would siphon life sustaining water before it reaches the Delta know it.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.