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Following the announcement of a controversial Peripheral Canal/Tunnel proposed by Governor Jerry Brown and Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar in Sacramento on July 25, the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) released a ground breaking report on the high cost and low reliability of State Water Project water for Santa Barbara County.

Brown proclaimed at the news conference, "I’m going forward with what I think is the best interest of the state. At various points along the way there’ll be voter check-ins in the form of ballot measures and also elections. But I don’t think this is too much. We have a $2 trillion economy, 38 million people - We have to do big stuff.

However, the groundbreaking C-WIN report, “The Cost of Water for Santa Barbara County - Why We Cannot Afford a Peripheral Canal,” demonstrates that the peripheral canal/tunnel plan is not "best for the state" or Southern California water rate payers.

The report documents huge cost overruns and dismal water deliveries for State Water Project water in Santa Barbara County. C-WIN recommends that Santa Barbara County and its water agencies withdraw support for the Peripheral Canal/Tunnel.

The report also includes a white paper report by economics firm ECONorthwest that contains an estimate of the range of costs for Santa Barbara County and its ratepayers who are expected to pay for a portion of the Peripheral Canal/Tunnel.

Brown also said he didn't "want to minimize the cost. $14 billion — it’s real money."

"If you think of this as a 50-year project, the California economy very conservatively goes to $2 trillion a year. That’s $100 trillion that (will) be generated by the California economy over the next 50 years. $14 billion is 0.0014 percent. Certainly affordable," Brown claimed.

Dispelling Brown's contention that the peripheral canal or tunnel is "certainly affordable," C-WIN’s President, Carolee Krieger said, “Santa Barbara County voters were told in 1991 that it would cost $270 million to get 97% of our State Water Project contract amounts.  The reality is that it will ultimately cost us nearly $1.7 billion for a lot less water than they promised, especially during drought years when it is actually needed.".

She also dispelled the the $14 billion figure cited by Brown as the canal's cost.

"We are being told by the same people that the Peripheral Canal will ‘only’ cost $14 billion. The rest of California’s ratepayers and taxpayers should learn from our economic disaster by rejecting the Peripheral Canal/Tunnel," Krieger urged.

The report examined budget and water delivery information from the Central Coast Water Authority (CCWA) and the four South Coast water agencies- the City of Santa Barbara, Montecito Water District, Carpinteria Valley Water District and Goleta Water District.

In the case of the Montecito Water District, the agency is spending 39% of its total budget this year (over $4.9 million) on State water, but they are not taking any of it because they don’t need it, according to C-WIN. Continual price increases have led to decreased water use such that State water is not needed. The water district is having to dip into reserves to balance its budget.

“Even with the existing cost estimates, a Peripheral Canal/Tunnel will lead to additional rate increases and bankrupt our local water agencies," said Krieger.The ECONorthwest report predicts that under the lowest cost scenario, Santa Barbara County water rates will go up on average $24/month in 2019. The high cost scenario would increase rates by $160 month in 2019.”

The C-WIN report estimated the 1998-2011 average cost of State water for the four South Coast water agencies at $3,000 to $6,000 per acre-foot and up to $9,000/acre-foot during the 2010 drought year.

Water agency estimates of unit costs per acre-foot are much less than C-WIN’s estimates because they are based on delivery of full contract amounts that have never been delivered and are not likely to ever be delivered.

The report also compares the actual cost of State water to other available sources including the Cachuma Project groundwater, recycling and reopening the City of Santa Barbara’s mothballed desalination plant. All other sources of water are cheaper, even with the large costs of restarting the city of Santa Barbara’s mothballed desalination plant.

Tom Stokely, C-WIN’s project manager and principal author of the report said, “I was astounded when I saw what was promised and what actually happened in Santa Barbara County. It’s clear from the research that the existing costs of State water are straining water agency budgets to their limits. More debt from a Peripheral Canal/Tunnel will surely send these agencies over the edge into bankruptcy. Additional water rate increases cannot compensate for these additional costs. Ratepayers will decrease consumption resulting in even less revenue to the water agencies, putting them further in debt.”

Krieger added, “Based on the California Department of Water Resources’ history of lowballing cost estimates for this project and others, there is no reason to believe that constructing 33’ diameter twin tunnels 150’ under the Delta will ‘only’ cost $14 billion. It will surely cost much more than that, especially when you consider the costs of financing, materials, energy and the potential for engineering design problems. It’s just another example of dishonesty in government. There are more reliable and cheaper alternatives to the Governor’s boondoggle.”

Contacts: Carolee Krieger 805-969-0824 or 805-451-9565
Tom Stokely 530-524-0315 or 530-926-9727

For more information on C-WIN’s Santa Barbara report, see

The Public Summary of the C-WIN Report at

The Full C-WIN Report with Appendices at

The ECONorthwest White Paper on Santa Barbara County Costs at

The California Water Impact Network promotes the equitable and environmental use of California's water, including instream uses, through research, planning, public education, and litigation.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Okay, our work is cut out for us. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spirit Dancer, S F Hippie

    We're back in the 1970's for sure.

    Thanks for posting.

  •  Using projected dollar amounts to determine (0+ / 0-)

    whether a proposal is a good idea is handy and relatively easy, but it's not a good decision basis. Cost/benefit analysis over the last four decades hasn't kept us from spending more and more money on more and more things for less practical return. We are not better off as a country (living longer, healthier, happier lives) because the way we make decisions has been wrong. Monetary measurements are useful in a relative sense, but not in a qualitative sense.  More expensive or less does not tell us whether something is better or worse.

    Retarding the flow of fresh water to the sea is not necessarily a bad idea. The disruption to the natural environment can be minimal. Of course, if the disruption is minimal and the surface environment is restored, the project will take more time and, if workers are paid, it will cost more. Expecting to exploit our natural resources for free is a habit we need to kick.

    Willard's forte = "catch 'n' cage"

    by hannah on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 02:33:20 AM PDT

    •  The proposed tunnels would be diversions, (0+ / 0-)

      not storage basins, so I'm not sure what you mean by retarding the flow of water. Regarding dams, proper forest management and meadow restoration in the Sierra Nevada would actually be less expensive than building new dams. One of the few scientists working on these ideas is Roger Bales of UC Merced.

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