Science before the sieve
First, a few water numbers.
Nine-thousand cubic feet per second is equal to 67,320 gallons. Nine-thousand cubic feet of water per second, therefore, is the volume equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool passing by every 10 seconds. It’s also the equivalent of an acre-foot every five seconds, and that’s enough water – every five seconds – to take care of the average annual water needs (indoors and outdoors) for two families of four.
Why do we need to know that?
Because the recently unveiled Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) includes a proposal for a “peripheral tunnel” beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta capable of shipping 9,000 cubic feet per second of Northern California water south.
That’s enough water in a day for 35,000 average homes. It’s enough water in a week for almost 1 million people. And that’s how much water could be routinely siphoned off from the fragile interface of fisheries, farming and families that merge year-round in the Delta.
Before California moves the first bucket of earth out of the way for that tunnel, the safety of the Delta, the safety of its fisheries, the safety and security of its people and the minimum needs of its farmers, must be measured, re-measured, studied and re-studied, vetted by the best scientific and engineering minds available.
It is a geopolitical reality that the most legislative votes and, therefore, the most political power in California is concentrated in the south, while most of the water is concentrated in the north.
Build it, some have said of the proposed tunnel, and they will come ... and take the water. All the water. Or at least more than is safe to divert.
How much is safe to divert? The only reliable answer is that no one knows. And that’s why reliable science must precede installation of any plumbing.
“All that we’ve insisted on is that any BDCP be based on sound science,” responded Rep. Mike Thompson, D. St. Helena. “Given the announced preferred alternative, this was apparently too much to ask. Before making irreversible decisions, we need a transparent, comprehensive and impartial discussion, with all stakeholders at the table, on how this would impact the farmers, fishers and businesses that depend on the Delta for their livelihoods. Today’s announcement ignores the needs of Northern California and will devastate our economy.”
Added Rep. George Miller, D. Martinez, “This process has to engage in the hard work of science – not just leap ahead before we know the impacts of this plan on the health and economy of the Bay-Delta and the communities that depend on it. Keep in mind what is at stake here – a badly designed plan can harm drinking water supplies, further endanger California’s salmon runs, and ruin the economic livelihood of tens of thousands ... up and down our coast.”
Concluded Rep. Jackie Speier, D. San Mateo, “If the State rushes to build a 9,000 cfs water project without doing the science on how it would divert the river, then the Delta will suffer, and farming and fishing jobs that depend on it will be lost. ... A plan this reckless will not succeed.”
We emphatically agree. Policy before plumbing. Science before the sieve.