Southern Californians challenge MWD to back canal cost-benefit analysis

by Dan Bacher

Southern California consumer and environmental advocates challenged the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) to support an independent cost-benefit analysis of the proposed multibillion peripheral canal or tunnel during a press conference today in Los Angeles.

“Who would get the water and who would pay the bill, which is now estimated to be $20 billion to upwards of $50 billion?” asked Conner Everts, Executive Director for the Southern California Watershed Alliance. “MWD opposes an independent cost-benefit analysis. But it’s MWD customers and other water district ratepayers in the southland who would pay the bill.”

The event was held outside the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), 700 North Alameda Street, in Los Angeles,

The speakers urged support for AB 2421 (B. Berryhill), a bill requiring an independent cost-benefit analysis before committing the public to pay tens of billions of dollars to build a peripheral canal or tunnel to divert more Delta water.

The Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on April 24 voted 10 to 2 to approve the legislation. The bill’s fate now rests with Assembly member Felipe Fuentes and Speaker John Perez, who will largely determine whether AB 2421 advances or dies by May 25.

“Ratepayers in Los Angeles now face escalating water rates to replace leaky pipes and upgrade old reservoirs,” said Garrick Ruiz, Water Campaign Manager, Green LA. “Fixing LA’s local water infrastructure is crucial to protecting LA’s water supply when the next major earthquake strikes.”

“The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will seek a rate hike this fall to expand our local water supply by capturing rainwater and cleaning up a polluted aquifer in the San Fernando Valley. Given these major investments, especially in tough economic times, ratepayers cannot afford to spend billions for someone else’s pipeline,” he affirmed.

“Assembly Bill 2421 would protect ratepayers from unfair rate hikes, as it requires a complete cost-benefit analysis of this pipeline to reveal who would get the water and who would pay the multibillion-dollar bill,” Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director for consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch explained.

“AB 2421 protects ratepayers from needlessly subsidizing corporate interests,” said Scow. “The chief beneficiaries of the pipeline are some of the nation’s most powerful agribusinesses, including Paramount Farms. Landowners on the west side and the south end of the San Joaquin Valley not only export lucrative crops such as almonds and pistachios, they are also gaming a system that allows them to resell taxpayer-subsidized water for private profit.”

Southern California ratepayers said they are alarmed by the following facts:

• MWD has admitted it would pay at least 25% of the cost of the project, which could go as high as $50 billion.

• MWD has already admitted that it will need to increase water rates every year for the foreseeable future.

• MWD rates have risen 96% since 2006 (Orange County Register, 4/15/12, Teri Sforza, “Imported water prices: up 96 percent since 2006”).

On August 10, 2010, Jeffrey Kightlinger, General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, stated, “If we are successful on the State Water Project – and success means a very expensive eco-system rehab project the size of what we’ve done in the Florida Everglades, and success means building a new tunnel or canal that we’re looking in the eight- to 12-billion-dollar range with the State of California – and Metropolitan coming on board to pay 25% of that cost – that’s a significant new cost that Metropolitan, the next generation of Metropolitan ratepayers will be paying.”

Kightlinger also proclaimed that Southern California ratepayers will see increased rates every year.

“We’re going to have to raise rates every single year nonstop, pretty much forever, and it’s going to be to be more than inflation because in addition to covering all the R&R work (replacement and refurbishment,}, we’re going to be adding new facilities,” said Kightlinger (Water Education Foundation, “Western Water,” Nov.-Dec. 2011).

Barry Nelson, Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Policy Analyst, revealed that imported water from MWD now costs LADWP $912 per acre-foot, when all related costs are included.

“This is more expensive than some conservation, recycled water and stormwater projects,” said Nelson in “The Southern California Trend Toward Reduced Reliance on the Delta – Price Matters,” Living Sustainably,” Feb. 6, 2012.

A diverse coalition of consumer and environmental groups, fishermen, family farmers and elected officials is backing AB 2421, while agribusiness groups, the California Chamber of Commerce and southern California water agencies including the Metropolitan Water District currently opposes the bill.

The bill “requires that an independent third party costs and benefits of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) be submitted to the Legislature prior to the BDCP’s inclusion in the Delta Plan, or by June 30, 2013, whichever comes first.”

The legislation also requires that the third party conducting the analysis shall be chosen by one representative each from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Delta Protection Commission, and the State Water Contractors, Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton), told the Committee. “A fair and balanced analysis is all we want,” said Berryhill.

Conner Everts and many other Southern California ratepayers have expressed strong support for the legislation, since they fear the construction of the canal could increase their water rates.

“Urban water users would pay billions of dollars for a massive peripheral canal or tunnel,” Conner Everts told the committee. “Those who’ll pay deserve to know how much they’d pay and how much benefit would go to those ratepayers.”

Not only would urban water users pay billions of dollars for the canal, but Delta advocates say the construction of the peripheral canal or tunnel will hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter and spring run chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail and other imperiled fish species. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is the largest and most significant estuary on the West Coast of the Americas – it is considered the ecological heart of California.

For more information, contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546, steve [at] hopcraft.com; Twitter: @shopcraft; Conner Everts, 310.394.6162 [1] ext. #111; connere [at] west.net; Adam Scow, ascow [at] fwwatch.org.

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