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Thirsty California: Is the cost of twin delta tunnels worth the payoff in SoCal?




The SoCal Metropolitan Water District is considering a twin delta tunnel plan that could add up to about $60 a year on some household water costs.
The SoCal Metropolitan Water District is considering a twin delta tunnel plan that could add up to about $60 a year on some household water costs.
“The Skint Dad Blog” at skintdad.co.uk. via Flickr

It's no secret water is scarce in Southern California.

The state wants to build twin tunnels, acting as a long "straw" to bring water from Northern California to Central Valley farmers and Angelenos.

The problem is how to pay for it -- if both tunnels are built, Southern California's water district is on the hook for a total of $11 billion. So the Metropolitan Water District is debating whether to sign on for one tunnel or two.

Going all in could mean an extra $60 a year tacked onto your water bill. 

Jeffrey Kightlinger is general manager of SoCal’s Metropolitan Water District, and he discussed why wants the district to pony up for the higher upfront cost.

Two tunnels, or one

These tunnels supply water to 25 million Southern Californians and over 3 million acres of farmland. To take care of both those needs, you need both tunnels. The Central Valley is a critical food supply source, for the nation and the world. 

Central Valley contribution

For the urban water user, it's an increase of about $2.50 a month. No one likes rate increases, I get that, but $2.50 a month is not going to shatter anyone's budget. But in the farming community there's a smaller group of farmers spreading the cost. Then the costs jump up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. So it's difficult to fund [the initial cost of] construction. They don't mind paying for it once the water starts being delivered, because then they have a product to sell.

 SoCal pays upfront costs

What if we fund it during construction, and then the farmers repay us upon completion? So we would be the financial mechanism to get it built, but then we would be made whole at the end of the construction period. 

Protecting against drought

We used to get a big heavy snowpack that would melt slowly, and we could rely on it through the whole summer as the snowpack melted. Now we're getting rain instead of snow. All the water is coming in a matter of days, maybe weeks, not months. We have to get that water into reservoirs, so we can survive a long, hot summer.