Delta Conveyance Project: Time to Start Moving Dirt and Stop Throwing Mud

August 12, 2022 Updated: August 12, 2022


The window may be closing on the Delta Conveyance Project as California slowly slides back to the stone age, while blaming everyone and everything except the organizations and individuals who have perfected the policy of paralysis by analysis.

The Delta Conveyance Project would be the completion of the state’s most vulnerable and valuable asset—and the pièce de résistance of what former Governor Pat Brown started in 1960, the State Water Project (SWP).

Despite Governor Pat Brown’s best efforts to quench the state’s thirst, the SWP was never completed. So, the problem remains: Most of the rain and snow falls in Northern California, but the world’s breadbasket—the Central Valley—and two-thirds of the state’s population rely on water deliveries at the southern end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Roughly 30 percent of those water supplies are utilized in the Central Valley to grow food, and nearly 70 percent is consumed for residential, municipal, and industrial uses in the Silicon Valley and southern California.

That’s why the Delta Conveyance Project, which would build a tunnel below the Delta to bring fresh water to the pumps in the southern portion of the estuary, must be built. It’s long overdue.

When voters approved bonds for the State Water Project in 1960, the money was intended for related future projects—like the Delta Conveyance. When Governor Reagan dedicated what we now refer to as the State Water Project in 1973, the population of the state was about 20 million.

Today we have nearly 40 million residents in California—and the only major infrastructure constructed since the dedication of the SWP is Diamond Valley Lake (DVL) in Hemet, which was completed in 1999. This recreation, power generation, and storage facility was paid for by the ratepayers of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and doubled their local storage capacity. DVL enabled MWD to take large amounts of storm-generated water and provide replenishment to the groundwater basins in their service area.

Critics of the Delta Conveyance have opposed every proposal to fix the Delta for over 40 years. Rather than put up a no vacancy sign, they are trying to control where and how we live by stifling investments in critical infrastructure that could keep the water flowing for the next century and beyond.

These opponents, to date, have effectively used environmental regulations, such as the California Environmental Quality Act, to prevent construction, and hope to delay it to the point of extinction. They are constantly seeking legal loopholes to hinder progress.

Another argument from the no vacancy brigade is that the Delta Conveyance will raise taxes. Wrong. Just like the SWP, this will be paid for by revenue bonds, which are not paid back with tax dollars. Those who benefit from the project—all water users—will pay through their water bills. Not building the Delta Conveyance will surely raise your water bills.

As drought inevitably returns, Sacramento will push the water-rationing button again. And, in the face of mandatory conservation, water providers will be forced to raise their rates, meaning higher bills regardless of how much water you use.

Another bogus claim is that the taxpayers will be left with the bill if the bonds can’t be paid off. The most significant share of the cost for the SWP, roughly 50 percent, will be borne by the customers of the MWD, and they have never defaulted on any investments that deliver water to the fifth largest economy in the world, southern California.

Like me, former Governor Jerry Brown understood and appreciated the great construction projects of the 1960s, which ushered in California’s Golden Age, first under his father, then under Governor Ronald Reagan. There was a time back when California did big projects almost seamlessly, building infrastructure—roads, schools, universities, water projects—that everybody needed. Well, that bipartisan “can do” spirit is once again required.

We are one earthquake, one catastrophic event away from cutting off that precious water supply to our homes, businesses, and the world’s breadbasket. The cost of doing nothing is too great. The time is now.

We must rely on Civil Engineers and eschew Social Engineers.

Before the vote to approve the State Water Project in 1960, Governor Pat Brown said, “It is time to start moving dirt and stop throwing mud.” A timeless statement that I could not agree with more today.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Brett R. Barbre has spent over 35 years in the water public policy arena and is a former member of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Municipal Water District of Orange County, and the Yorba Linda Water District.