The Twin Tunnels aren’t really about water.
They’re about wealth.
True they will convey water but it is what that water will be used for that is the bottom line. It’s to sustain economic growth primarily of the Los Angeles Basin and nearby Southland regions that surpassed sustainability based on their local water sources 80 or so years ago.
The shameless manipulation of voters by the development interests led by the Los Angeles Times used perceived water shortages for the existing population three times in the early part of the 20th century to get LA voters to approve major bond authorizations to develop the Los Angeles Aqueduct plus a diversion and storage system in the Owens Valley as well as build the Colorado River Aqueduct.
Los Angeles and their allies paint the Twin Tunnels as a way to assure uninterrupted water deliveries if a massive earthquake or some other event causes Delta levees to fail. They contend it won’t increase water supply.
That is simply not true.
By bypassing the Delta they achieved the development nirvana that San Francisco did when they bypassed the Delta for their main water supply in the 1920s. Water from the Sierra watershed captured in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir flows in the original “tunnel” bypass of the Delta through pipelines that pass beneath Modesto and the valley floor. That effectively protects the water San Francisco accesses from the Tuolumne River watershed from ever being factored into court or bureaucratic decisions governing diverting water to fish or combating salinity in the Delta. It also takes it out of the equation of cutbacks for the most part during droughts.
That means if Los Angeles can get the water it draws from the north state to not flow through the Delta it skirts having to contribute to water releases for fish and salinity that cuts into the water supply that had previously been committed to urban and agricultural uses that went beyond the previous set aside for river flows. It also can immune itself from drought-related mandates involving Delta flows.
So for a mere $18 billion or so with the “victims” of the indirect water grab apparently now being put on the hook to help pay for their partial demise, LA gets additional water capacity without having to engage in the high stakes political game of building more storage that requires new dams backing up rivers.
Los Angeles never has — and never will — invest billions of billions of dollars in a water project that keeps the status quo unless it is to maintain what they already have against outside forces.
LA and the Southland like most of the rest of California refuse to “mature.” That means they want to grow. And given the semi-Ponzi scheme of city and county governments that have crumbling infrastructure they need to replace and massive IOUs looming for employee retirement costs, they need to keep growing to kick the proverbial can down the road.
And in order for the Southland to keep growing they need to have more water. The residents of Los Angeles have done a Herculean job of reducing per capita water use since the mid-1970s drought. The LA area has also shed many water intensive concerns. They don’t have employers such as Eckert’s Cold Storage in Manteca that use large amounts of water to process bell peppers that will end up going into many of the pizzas Los Angeles residents will consume. The Central Valley not only grows the bulk of the food consumed elsewhere including the massive population centers of Southern California but they also process it. And that takes water.
It is why per capita comparisons of water consumption from valley cities to coastal cities is misleading. The valley is hotter on a whole and tends to have more free standing homes with larger yards. But we also have more industry that — while using water fairly miserly as it is a big cost of doing business — still needs large amounts of water. Tomato and food processing plants more often than not are located in valley towns. The large water uses are tossed in with residential use to determine the per capita water use.
The inconvenient truth is virtually everyone in California is using less water than they were using 20 years ago whether they are in the north or south, coast or valley, urban or rural, or farming or manufacturing. About the only segment that is using more water than they were two decades ago is water set aside for fish releases.
Even that is wasteful given research that shows it’s not the volume of water as much as it is the timing of flows that make the difference for fish and addressing non-native predators that also happen to be fish.
It is against that background of modern-day water use patterns and court rulings that Los Angeles has once again shrewdly read the water tea leaves.
Given how the Twin Tunnels will create conditions that ultimately will lay upwards of 200,000 acres of Delta farmland fallow in San Joaquin County alone, the real question is why is a $15 an hour at a new McDonald’s in the Southland worth more than a job of a farm worker in San Joaquin County?
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.