Judging by the noise coming out of the governor's office, California's water problems are all but resolved. A decades-old dilemma was no match for Jerry Brown, the visionary who just wants "to get (expletive) done."
His recently announced plan to build twin 33-foot-diameter tunnels that will "convey" water from the Sacramento River to pumps in Tracy is the missing piece of the puzzle known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Water for the south, water for farmers, water for everyone.
And when California undertakes huge infrastructure projects like this, it hardly ever misfires -- unless you want to nitpick about the nine-year delay and $5 billion overrun on the new Bay Bridge.
For those coming in late, the problem has been this: Water pumped from the southern end of the Delta (shipped to Central Valley farms and Southern California residents) is often drained so rapidly it causes a reverse flow from the Bay, bringing saltwater and invasive species upstream that wreak havoc with the ecosystem.
The proposed solution: Suck out most of the water farther upstream. If that solution seems a bit simplistic, Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho agrees.
"Doesn't the flow still matter?" she said. "Don't you still need fresh water to get the Delta healthy?"
Or, put another way: If you siphon 12 inches of water from one end of your swimming pool, won't that make it 12 inches shallower at the other end?
"Longtimers think that vote meant such a project never can be built," Piepho said. "That's not true. The Department of Water Resources can partner with federal agencies to build a project without any legislative oversight."
Environmental impact studies still must pass muster, but Piepho worries that political science may outweigh real science in determining feasibility. Big-money interests -- water contractors, mainly -- stand to profit from favorable findings.
State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, has similar reservations: "I see it a lot like high-speed rail, where we're getting committed when we don't know what the consequences are."
He worries that too much emphasis has been placed on draining the Delta and not enough on protecting it. He said it's shortsighted to do a conveyance project without upgrading the entire water delivery system, which begins with fixing levees.
"That's the biggest priority," he said. "There's such a risk right now without spending any money for levee restoration."
He and Piepho both cite the waterway as an economic, cultural and recreational asset. "For the people around here," DeSaulnier said, "there's a reverence and love for the quality of life. They want to keep the estuary as healthy as possible."
Funding is no issue for the tunnels. Water contractors are prepared to pay up to $14 billion for those.
"But they're only going to pay for a project that's going to give them the allotment of water that they need," Piepho said.
She is lobbying for local communities to have a greater voice. She urges the public to demand as much input as water exporters have.
If the governor's big idea isn't fair to all who are affected, maybe it isn't the kind of (expletive) that deserves to get done.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com