Meaningful Conversations: A review of the California Water Fix

Southern California obtains 30% of its water from the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta via the State Water Project. Water officials are concerned about the infrastructure that supports the Delta.  To address concerns, Governor Jerry Brown and the Department of Water Resources are proposing a project to build two tunnels under the Delta. The California Water Fix aims at addressing water reliability in the Delta. However, others are concerned with the success of the project and its impact on the environment. 

To provide insight, Central Basin hosted an in-depth discussion looking the project’s benefits and concerns. Panelists included representatives from Restore the Delta, Sierra Club Angeles Chapter and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Restore the Delta believes in the protection of the Delta and in better alternatives for transporting water. Executive Director, Barbara Barrigan-Padilla, explained that the addition of tunnels in the Delta would negatively impact water quality. Further, she also expressed concern for the 4 million community members who rely on the estuary as a primary source of income. Restore the Delta fears that the constituents would pay for the majority of the project. 

Restore the Delta believes in alternative solutions to the project, such as:

  • Reducing exports to a maximum of 3-3.5 million acre-feet (MWD avg. 770,000 acre-feet per year)
  • Activating a more aggressive statewide regional self-sufficiency plan
  • Supporting regional projects to conserve, recycle reuse and capture water
  • Fixing fish screens and pumps in the City of Tracy to allow increase natural flows of fresh water to increase salmon survival as well as flush out pollutants
  • Upgrading levees to the highest standards to protect water supply and reliability. Although the upgrade costs would range between $2-4 billion, the levees would require rehabilitation even if the tunnels were to be built

Yvonne Watson, from the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, also expressed similar concerns. The Sierra Club believes that California can reach sustainability by focusing on water recycling, conservation and better groundwater management.

Ms. Watson also emphasized that local issues, such as aging infrastructures should be a priority. Reservoirs are losing storage capacity and water delivery pipes are rusting, clogging, and cracking.

The Sierra Club recommends two alternatives. This includes: the revitalization of the LA River and desalination of brackish water.   

To address project concerns, Randall Neudeck, Program Manager of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), provided information on the improvements that would occur as a result of the project.

Mr. Neudeck explained that with the current system, the Delta's water supply would continue to decline. Making the investment today would help ensure a reliable water supply. It would also prevent an expensive repair if a disaster occurred. Southern California ratepayers would see an estimated increase of $5 month for 10 years.    

The project will include improvements to the north and south Delta. Improvement in the North include: modern intake screens, and flexible diversion flows. Improvements in the south delta include: lower reverse flows in the river and less fish diversions at the pumps. Regional storage reserves may also be higher once the project is completed.

Mr. Neudeck emphasized the five major benefits for Southern California businesses:

  • Sustaining our cities
  • Minimizing future water rates
  • Thinking long term for future generations
  • Preserving jobs
  • Advancing statewide progress

MWD views the Water Fix as an important investment that is more affordable than any other alternative. The cost of the project is roughly half the cost of any mega-scale project to develop new local water supplies. 

It is important to recognize that all projects have benefits and challenges. The California Water Fix aims at improving the infrastructure in the Delta. However, concerns lie within the environmental and economic impact. We must keep in mind that we all share one end goal—to provide our communities with sustainable, reliable sources of water.  

The California Water Fix discussion was part of the Caucus workshops. If you would like to sign-up for future workshops, please contact Priscilla Segura by e-mail at priscillas@centralbasin.org