Has the Peripheral Delta Tunnel Canal Thingie paralyzed California water?

OtPR has a super insightful observation about three decades of California water policy:

The Peripheral Canal was voted down in 1982.  My sense is that the possibility of the Peripheral Canal has largely paralyzed California water policy since then (with the possible exception of IRWM).  If the Peripheral Canal had been entirely off the table, the regions would have adapted by now, gone ahead with storm and wastewater reuse or turf removal or whatever needed to happen.  If it had been built, whatever would have become of the Delta would already have happened.  Being in limbo has meant that we never got serious about living without it or adjusted to having it. The gentlemen at that conference have spent their professional lives on trying to make it happen, at the opportunity cost of whatever else they could have achieved. (emphasis added)

Not to be a writerly critic, but I think this might be improved by flipping the voice in the opening sentence from passive to active: “Californians voted down the Peripheral Canal in 1982.” That makes clear the tension at the heart of the problem.



  1. from what i can tell this is like the Gila River project in that the project won’t really change how much water is available and so for the price i think it is a huge waste of money.

    so much more could be done with that money if it were put into ground water recharge projects, water recycling projects, desal projects, etc. these would actually improve how much of the existing water is actually being used and reused instead of wasted.

    the bypass project continues the status quo and even ups the ante in what looks to me to be a failing assumption. what happens if they build it and there’s still not enough water to move through it? are they going to suck the salt water into the bay and up the river? for the money they put into it i’ma gonna guess that they’ll find some justifications for doing just that and then say, “Well, we didn’t expect it to be like this, but we gotta have water! Oops, too bad…”

    one possible compromise would be to make a single smaller tunnel that would not be able to ever carry too much water south. costs less, prevents over withdrawal and could even leave the existing system in place for the times when high extra flows are available. still i see this as a huge extra expense for not much gain when there is much more to be gained for the money spent elsewheres…

  2. Has the Peripheral Delta Tunnel Canal Thingie paralyzed California water?

    Possibly. But like any economist (or CEQA lawyer) would point out, what’s the alternative? The State has made a multi-billion dollar commitment to moving water across the Delta, and it’s generally recognized that the current system is unsustainable, both with regard to the environmental impacts in the Delta and to the risks of contaminating the entire system when (not if) the next major levee break occurs.

    And engineers, especially water engineers, tend to the conservative side. So when we talk about global climate change and sea level rise, the natural response is to increase our water management tools, not decrease them. There’s plenty of untapped storage space in Kern County (and, for that matter, all up and down the Central Valley, due to all the groundwater pumping). If we are moving into an era of greater variability, then it’s all that more important to be able to move really large volumes of water across the Delta in wet years, for storage south of the Delta.

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