Delta Tunnel Decision: The Fate Of California’S Water Future

## California’s Peripheral Canal Proposal: A Historical and Controversial Endeavor

### Introduction

The notion of a peripheral canal in California has been a contentious issue for decades, with its origins dating back to the 1960s. At the heart of the debate is the need to balance water supply reliability with environmental protection, particularly in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

### The California Water Project and Delta Impacts

The California Water Project, completed in the 1960s, significantly altered the state’s water infrastructure. It dams the Feather River at Oroville, diverting water into the Sacramento River and eventually the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Pumps at the Delta’s southern edge convey water into the California Aqueduct, distributing it throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

However, the pumping of water from the Delta has had adverse effects on its natural ecosystem, harming habitat for fish and wildlife. The proposed 44-mile-long peripheral canal aimed to mitigate these impacts by diverting water around the Delta, thereby improving water supply reliability and minimizing environmental damage.

### Opposition and Stalled Progress

Despite its potential benefits, the peripheral canal faced widespread opposition, primarily from environmental groups who doubted its effectiveness. The project remained stalled until 1975 when Governor Jerry Brown attempted to complete his father’s water plan, including the canal.

Brown successfully obtained legislative approval for the canal, but the compromise version failed to appease environmentalists and alienated San Joaquin Valley farmers. Consequently, the project was defeated in a 1982 referendum.

### Revival and Recent Developments

After more than two decades of political limbo, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger revived the project in the form of twin tunnels bypassing the Delta. Governor Jerry Brown, upon returning to office in 2011, once again pursued the project’s completion.

Under Governor Gavin Newsom, the project was scaled down to a single tunnel, and the Department of Water Resources was tasked with its implementation. The project has faced cost challenges, with its estimated cost rising to $20 billion. However, water agency officials claim that it will generate $2.20 in benefits for every $1 spent.

Environmental groups remain opposed to the tunnel, citing concerns about reduced water flows through the Delta. Additionally, the financial feasibility of the project remains uncertain, as downstream water agencies may not be willing to cover construction costs.

### Environmental Trade-offs

By its nature, a bypass tunnel would reduce water flows through the Delta. Governor Newsom’s administration is attempting to balance this environmental impact by negotiating with San Joaquin Valley farmers to reduce their water consumption from rivers, allowing more water to flow through the Delta.

The interplay between these contrasting efforts is a major challenge facing the project, as it seeks to reconcile water supply needs with environmental conservation.