Friday, December 29, 2023








        And so, in late December the word went out from Sacramento: The long-anticipated (and, in some quarters, dreaded) 45-mile Delta Tunnel has been approved. Construction presumably to start soon, whatever that means.


        Yet,  as a “Porgy and Bess” drug dealer named Sportin’ Life noted musically, “It ain’t necessarily so.”


                Yes, the pared down tunnel proposal, about two-thirds the size of twin tunnels once proposed by ex-Gov. Jerry Brown, now has all needed state government approvals. Its formal name is the Delta Conveyance Project and the state Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) formal approval announcement claimed it would produce about 500,000 acre feet of fresh water each year in perpetuity for consumers and farmers. That’s in addition to the current take from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, southwest of the city of Sacramento. The tunnel would supply about 5.2 million persons.


        “Today marks another significant milestone in our efforts to modernize state water infrastructure and adapt to the challenges of changing precipitation patterns,” said Karla Nemeth, DWR director. Of course, the larger challenge of the last year or so has been trying to save more water from the far greater than normal rainfalls of an extremely wet winter. Most of the extra water in 2023 flowed out to sea.


        The DWR press release claimed the Delta tunnel would bring water from the Sacramento River under the Delta in 39-foot-high culverts and send it south to farms and cities via the state Water Project. Of course, saving 500,000 acre feet of new water yearly, as the DWR says the tunnel would do, might also require gigantic new storage capacity, probably necessitating the long-proposed Sites Reservoir just east of the Sacramento River and mostly in Colusa County north of the eponymously named state capital.


        The DWR also said the project would protect against earthquakes disrupting water supplies, but did not say how. And it claimed it would preserve fisheries, while providing lasting benefits to local communities within the Delta. These conclusions apparently run counter to what the locals believe, since both fishing interests and many other Delta residents and businesses oppose the tunnel.


        It’s well known that controversy always dogs California water politics. Mark Twain is famously said to have pronounced, “In California, whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” Of course, Twain at one time was paid to endorse a Kentucky bourbon, which just might have influenced what he supposedly said.


        Brown’s original twin tunnels were a derivative of the ill-fated Peripheral Canal project, passed as a law by the Legislature in 1980 and then killed in a resounding 1982 referendum vote. The 93 percent “no” verdict in the San Francisco Bay Area and other northern locales at that time was as close as America had seen to the outcome of a Soviet-style plebiscite.


        Despite the new state approval, the tunnel project – priced at $16 billion in 2020 estimates and likely to overrun that total by a large margin – still has a long way to go, the Stockton-based Restore the Delta organization rejoiced in a competing press release arriving only minutes after the DWR’s celebratory one.


        The group’s executive director, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, noted that anyone who wants to block the tunnel at least temporarily has until late January to file suit under CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. “We and our broad coalition…will engage in all necessary processes…to stop the Delta Conveyance Project once and for all,” she said. “Sadly, the (Gov. Gavin) Newsom administration is continuing to waste public dollars and time advancing a project that Californians have rejected for decades and that will not solve our climate water challenge.”


        Lawyers have already given notice they will fight the tunnel on behalf of several local Indian tribes, along with trying to force federal authorities to set scientific standards for “estuary health” before any such project advances.


        Concluded Barrigan-Parrilla, “Ultimately, the project will die from its own bloated costs.” Time will tell whether that is correct, but for sure Sportin’ Life’s warning should be noted by anyone reading state government boasts about having approved the gigantic tunnel it proposed.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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