Cost of Delta tunnel rises to $20.1 billion, environmentalists blast ‘flawed’ benefits analysis by Newsom administration

Clarksburg is one of numerous towns in the Delta that would face major impacts from Newsom's proposed tunnel. Photo by Scott Thomas Anderson

By Dan Bacher

The Department of Water Resources, or DWR, just released a controversial benefit-cost analysis for the Delta Conveyance Project – better known as the Delta Tunnel – that claims the embattled project would create billions of dollars in benefits for California communities. This claim from officials coincides with the revelation that the now-single-tunnel project will cost $20.1 billion.  

“For every $1 spent, $2.20 in benefits would be generated,” DWR wrote in its analysis.

The department cited “reliable water supplies, climate change adaptation, earthquake preparedness and improved water quality” among the “benefits.” 

“The Delta Conveyance Project passes the benefit-cost test readily, with benefits that are more than double the cost,” insisted Dr. David Sunding, Emeritus Professor, UC Berkeley, who led the benefit-cost analysis, in a statement.

“The project enables ongoing demands to be satisfied and water supply reliability to be maintained,” he said, adding “the benefits clearly justify the costs.”

The analysis also claimed that as climate change and regulatory constraints cause water supplies to diminish over time, the “reliability of the State Water Project infrastructure is in jeopardy, putting 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland at risk,” according to DWR.  

“Twenty-seven million people rely on these surface water supplies that support a $2.3 trillion economy in California.” said Karla Nemeth, Director of the California Department of Water Resources. “There is a very real cost to do nothing. It is vastly more efficient and economical to avoid declining supplies.”

Delta Tunnel critics weren’t impressed by DWR’s analysis.

Restore the Delta noted that with annual inflation costs for construction rising to 10.7% since 2020, costs will continue to rise significantly during the extended permitting period prior to DCP construction, “making the $20.1 billion figure obsolete before construction begins.”

“Moreover, the [tunnel] would transport less water when compared to the previous California WaterFix twin tunnel project tunnel project that was projected to cost $16.7 billion. The DCP plan currently lacks signed agreements by water districts indicating their willingness to fund the project,” Restore the Delta pointed out. 

“DWR’s release is nothing more than an elaborate public relations stunt,” said Restore the Delta’s Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla in a statement. “The benefit-costs analysis is one-sided and incomplete since it only looks at benefits and costs for State Water Project customers.”

“DWR must also analyze and include the impacts to California tribes, Delta communities and economies, the fishing community, and environmental and public safety concerns,” Barrigan-Parrilla continued. “Instead of foisting the costs of this boondoggle project onto Californians, the state should invest in sustainable water solutions that promise to restore the Delta ecosystem, not destroy it.”

Food & Water Watch’s California Director Chirag Bhakta also slammed the DWR analysis in a statement:

“We all want and need a solution to California’s water crisis, but pouring billions of dollars into the expensive and destructive Delta Conveyance Project is not the answer, and, as environmental advocates have been saying for years, it is not the right strategy to deal with our state’s lack of water resilience,” Bhakta emphasized. “Not only could this Project have a negative impact on the vibrant and necessary local wildlife habitats and further degrade the Delta’s water quality, but it is not a smart use of funds. Rather than building this unnecessary Project, Governor Newsom and the Department of Water Resources must immediately rein in the water abuses by big agribusiness and fossil fuel corporations.”

Bhakta added, “For example, Food & Water Watch reporting has shown that expanded nut crop acres required more than 520 billion gallons more water in 2021 than just four years prior. Meanwhile, alfalfa irrigation guzzles around 945 billion gallons of water per year, mega-dairies use more than 142 million gallons per day and climate-polluting oil and gas operators devoured 3 billion gallons of freshwater between 2018 and 2021. The climate crisis is upon us and we don’t have time to wait, especially when Californians are living without access to safe, fresh water … the Delta Conveyance Project is not the answer.”

For more expert views of the benefit-cost analysis, Professor Jeff Michaels from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law offers his thoughts here. In his column, he asks DWR a number of questions, including the following:

“This report is being released over five years after Governor Newsom directed DWR to switch to a single-tunnel plan, and nearly two years after DWR released the details of its preferred project design in the Draft EIR,” said Dr. Michaels. “The Final EIR was released last year.” 

“Should benefit-cost analysis be conducted before or after an alternative is selected?” he asked.

The Sierra Club and the Natural Resource Defense Council also oppose the tunnel for its impacts on fish, wildlife and the Delta’s overall eco-system. The battle over Newsom’s proposal continues to play out as Delta fish populations are in worst-ever crisis, which is directly linked to pumps that keep exporting water to Big Ag.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

Be the first to comment on "Cost of Delta tunnel rises to $20.1 billion, environmentalists blast ‘flawed’ benefits analysis by Newsom administration"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.