Opponents of the peripheral canal, or its current incarnation, frequently contend that there is "not enough water to go around," but it is my contention that there would be enough water to go around if we had the plumbing system in place to manage it more intelligently.
The overriding problem in California is that the variability of precipitation is even more important than the average precipitation. And this variation is not completely random.
There tend to be bunches of wetter-than-average years and bunches of drier-than-average years. The latter are known as droughts.
You might well ask, "What has this to do with the peripheral canal?" and in a sense you would be on target -- because the current plans for a peripheral canal around the Delta, or twin tunnels under it, have little or nothing to do with addressing the real possibility of a six-year drought in California.
In fact "the canal" is a legacy idea that will do little or nothing to either provide a more reliable water supply or restore the over-stressed Bay-Delta-Rivers ecosystem.
So why is Gov. Jerry Brown hellbent on short-circuiting the Bay Delta Conservation Plan studies and announcing a "preferred project?" Basically, I think, because he intends to run for a second (sorry, fourth) term and he is pandering to the Hispanic lobby on high-speed rail and the San Joaquin-Southern California water lobby on "the canal."
From the political perspective,
The more puzzling question is why is the San Joaquin-Southern California water lobby so insistent on the need for "the canal," even though it does little or nothing to address either their short or long-term problems.
The stated reason is so that they can obtain 50-year "incidental take permits," allowing the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project to operate without continual harassment over endangered species issues.
But that is a pipe dream if the BDCP can't produce an effects analysis that justifies the granting of incidental take permits.
And what is the principal argument that they repeat ad nauseam for needing this toy? See, for instance, the recent letter from 18 California legislators to the California secretary for natural resources and the U.S. secretary for the interior, which said in part "as each day passes, the threat of a major earthquake in the Delta region and the impact of weather changes threaten the water supply." Ah yes, the twin bogeys of earthquakes and climate change. Both of which are real, but whose importance relative to Delta levees and water conveyance has been greatly exaggerated.
So that's the puzzle. Why does the San Joaquin-Southern California water lobby, which surely was the hidden hand behind the legislators' letter, worry about a worst case six-month interruption in supply due to an earthquake of low probability and not so much about a six-year drought that has a higher probability of occurrence and would decimate both farmers and fishermen?
And, why does this lobby oppose AB 2422, which seeks to fund initial studies of the Western Delta Intakes Concept, which seriously tackles not only ecosystem restoration, but also the possibility of a six-year drought. Is the answer that this fight is more about power than water?
Robert Pyke is a consulting engineer based in Walnut Creek. He was one of the principal contributors to the Economic Sustainability Plan developed by the Delta Protection Commission.