Monday, June 3, 2013

$25 billion for state's proposed water fix

Last month here we discussed the politicking required to put a pork-laden $11 billion water bond before the voters. Last week, the Los Angeles Times' Bettina Boxall reported that the larger plan of which that bond is part is projected to cost $25 billion.

The state proposal to make dramatic changes to the "hub" of California's water system, Boxall writes, "calls for habitat restoration and the construction of two enormous tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River and carry it under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to southbound pumps."

The costs--as currently projected--and who will bear them seem clear. As the San Jose Mercury News reported last week, "About 68 percent of the new Delta plan would be covered by water users through higher rates, while about 15 percent would come from taxpayers by way of two future water bonds, including one set for 2014."

Really, the 68-percent and 15-percent figures should be added together since they point to the same pocket. Which means that the ratepayer/taxpayer should expect to end up footing almost 85 percent of that $25 billion bill--if there aren't any cost overruns.

And, according to critics of the project, urban water users--that would be most people in the state--should expect to bear a bigger percentage of the costs than has been projected. That's because agriculture won't be able to afford its share. 

"They're irrational costs for a subset of San Joaquin Valley farmers to bear," said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. "Urban users are going to pay much more for this than they've been told and the usual cost overruns will just make the problems worse."

Who stands where on this proposal? The Mercury News reports that supporters "include farm and business leaders, along with labor unions and many of the state's largest water districts, from the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles to the Westlands Water District in Fresno." Opponents "include environmentalists, fishing groups and a dozen Bay Area members of Congress."

Perhaps the most interesting note in the Mercury News story was the suggestion that Gov. Jerry Brown may be suffering from "administration envy" and entertaining "hopes of going down in history as prolific as his governor father in creating lasting, visible signs of his political craftsmanship on California's landscape."

Clearly, it's not just questions of policy that get addressed when policy is debated and made. 
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