SACRAMENTO -- A new economic study estimates that Gov. Jerry Brown's multi-billion-dollar plan to build two massive tunnels to move water from Northern California down south would create a net benefit for Californians of roughly $5 billion.
While critics sharply disputed the legitimacy of the cost-benefit analysis of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan efforts, the draft released Monday concludes that the plan's combined impacts would spur $83.5 billion in new economic activity in the state, and create 177,000 construction and Delta habitat restoration-related jobs over the project's 50-year life. The plan aims to restore and protect 145,000 acres of Delta habitat.
Areas studied in the report included impacts to urban and agricultural water providers, greenhouse gas emissions, recreation and Delta project issues, namely related to transportation, air quality and water salinity.
"This report shows we are acting in the best interest today and for the future. This is crucial to California's economic future," California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said at a news conference Monday.
"In this case, we are serving dual goals because, as the report makes clear, it makes economic and environmental sense."
The 35-mile-long side-by-side tunnels, which would carry fresh water from the state's largest river, the Sacramento, under the Delta to the Tracy pumps, will cost $24.7 billion, according to the state's Department of Water Resources.
However, the analysis uses a 2012 dollar figure of $17.2 billion, which represents a combination of federal and state water contractors and state water bonds, said David Sunding, principal of the Braddle Group, which conducted the study. The net benefit of between $4.8 and $5.4 billion is also estimated in 2012 dollars, said Sunding, an economics professor at UC Berkeley.
The study also indicates the plan would preserve one million jobs that depend on Delta water in the commercial, industrial and agricultural sector over the next 50 years. Having a dependable water supply also helps the long-term economic vitality of the state, whether it's the defense industry, technology in Silicon Valley or agriculture, said Allan Zaramberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce.
The report points out that despite the new jobs, the project would create a net loss in the Delta region of about $120 million in local water salinity, transportation and air quality, while potentially leading to the loss of near 37,000 farm jobs.
But, the Delta would be home to the nearly 180,000 temporary new jobs, which will be full time but for one year only.
Opponents of the plan condemned Monday's analysis.
"It's the purest piece of propaganda they've come out with yet," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Stockton-based Restore the Delta.
The state continues to take a "piecemeal" approach to coming up with costs for the project and "hiding the actual costs," she said.
The short-term jobs that would be created would come at the expense of Delta farmland, the region's salmon industry and recreational activities, such as boating and fishing, Barrigan-Parrilla said.
Adam Scow, California Campaigns director of Food and Water Watch, adds: "They're either deliberately cooking the books or refusing to do a real cost analysis. It's a misappropriation of taxpayer resources."
Brown administration officials pointed out that Monday's study is not required, rather is part of the extensive research being undertaken in designing the plan, informing the public, and helping guide policy makers.
Capital costs to bring Brown's tunnels plan to fruition would total $19.9 billion, $4.8 billion of which would be for operation and maintenance.
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.
Backers of the twin tunnels include farm and business leaders, along with labor unions and many of the state's largest water districts. Opponents include environmentalists, fishing groups and a dozen Northern California members of Congress.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.