The Truth about Jerry Brown’s Twin-Tunnel Scheme … and LA’s Water Future

WATER POLITICS-In all the debate circling around the newly released draft of the Governor’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan, there’s one critical point that keeps getting overlooked: Governor Brown’s proposed $25 billion twin-tunnel project would worsen the very problem it claims to solve. By securing excessive amounts of water for corporate agribusinesses in the Westlands Water District, the tunnels would both undermine the health of the Delta and the ability for Los Angeles to secure its own water future. 

Beneath its eco-friendly moniker, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is nothing but a contemporary version of the Peripheral Canal – Governor Brown’s epic failure that was defeated by California voters in a statewide referendum in 1982. 


The legendary Dorothy Green, founder of Heal the Bay and the California Water Impact Network, led the opposition in Los Angeles to defeat the Peripheral Canal. She knew then what is even more true today: spending billions on a new canal or tunnels in the Delta would undercut our ability to modernize LA’s water system and unfairly force LA ratepayers to subsidize water for corporate agribusiness. 

The tunnels would actually threaten the diversification and reliability of Los Angeles’ water supply. Indeed, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s water plan calls for reducing imports from the Delta and increasing local water supply by cleaning groundwater, replacing aging pipes and expanding water recycling. These measures are three to four times cheaper than imported water, which will continue to get more expensive with rising energy prices. 

Already Angelenos are fed up with LADWP rate hikes and cannot afford to waste public dollars on a tunnels project while they are being asked to spend billions on fixing and improving their local water system at the same time. Food & Water Watch commissioned an independent economic analysis of the tunnels’ cost to Los Angeles ratepayers that estimates the average cost per household would be between $2,000 and $4,500 dollars, which adds up to $1.6 to $5 billion over 40 years. This money would be better spent on cleaning groundwater in the San Fernando Valley, replacing aging water mains, and expanding water recycling. 

It’s time to be honest – the largest stressor on the Delta and the root-cause of much of California’s water problems is the excessive amount of water being exported for unsustainable large corporate farming operations in the Westlands Water District. Over 200,000 acres of Westlands’ soil is contaminated with selenium and will become non-arable in the coming decades. Corporate agribusinesses in Westlands and Kern County Water Agency are now positioning themselves to sell their taxpayer-subsidized water for private profit as their farmland erodes. This water-marketing scheme will continue to take its toll on the Delta. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right or fair to the rest of us. 

Federal biological opinions have confirmed that the Delta suffers from a lack of fresh water flows, which have dwindled as a result of rising exports over the last 10 years. Westlands and the Kern County Water Agency have made clear the project will only be built if they continue to receive large amounts of water. With water supplies forecasted to dwindle even further, the construction of these massive twin-tunnels will only prolong the very problem they claim to solve. A real solution would require reducing and phasing out water deliveries to the toxic soils in the Westlands Water District. 

It’s illogical for Los Angeles ratepayers to pay for a project that will only further degrade the Delta and detract from making smart investments to increase the local water supply and create local jobs. Los Angeles needs LADWP and City Hall to fight for what’s best for its ratepayers and not sign on to this bad water deal.


(Adam Scow is the California director for the public interest nonprofit Food & Water Watch. Food & Water Watch is a founding member of the coalition Californians for a Fair Water Policy. More information can be found at







Vol 12 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 10, 2014