Opinion: Delta tunnel will address California’s water challenges

July 12, 2023

Failure to improve our water infrastructure is the equivalent of denying climate change


California is running out of time to adapt to the very real impacts of climate change already plaguing our state — extreme dry periods, reduced Sierra snowpack and short, intense periods of warmer and wetter rains. We must act now to upgrade our water infrastructure to capture and move water when we have it so that it’s available when we do not. Failure to improve our water infrastructure is the equivalent of denying climate change.

That’s why it is frustrating to see the same tired arguments against the Delta Conveyance Project, one of the most important water infrastructure projects we can build as a state to secure our water supply for millions of Californians well into the future.

California is navigating another dramatic swing in climate conditions, with a year of unprecedented rainfall resulting in snow water supplies in the Sierra Nevada mountains at 346% of normal at the outset of summer, according to the California Department of Water Resources. While this should be welcome news, our state’s outdated water infrastructure is not efficiently capturing, moving and storing this desperately needed water for future drought years.

So how can we change our approach to finally address the urgent effects of climate change? We can start by shoring up our water supply through the Delta Conveyance Project and other water infrastructure projects that benefit Santa Clara County and Northern California.

California’s main water distribution system carries water long distances from the Sierra Nevada through a system of rivers, levees, canals, pipes and pumps to two-thirds of the state. This system supplies nearly 40% of Santa Clara County’s water supply.

However, our region’s allocation from these sources has continued to fall and has become unreliable. This water is not just used in our homes and businesses but is also used to recharge our depleted aquifers and augment other local water sources.

The Delta Conveyance Project will modernize this infrastructure to be more responsive to our state’s changing hydrological conditions. Had this project been in operation during the January rain storms this year, it could have moved and captured enough water in one month for more than 2 million Californians to last an entire year.

We cannot allow this project to be delayed by old rules and red tape from opponents who seem to deny the urgency and effects of climate change.

We need to take an “all of the above” approach to prepare for the numerous effects of climate change, which may include building seawalls, upgrading flood control systems and modernizing water delivery infrastructure to withstand more severe droughts and floods.

The fact is, if we’re still in a “drought emergency” in future years, it will be because we failed to do something now, when we had an opportunity to build for the future. We need to ensure that more than 27 million people will continue to have a reliable supply of safe, clean drinking water.

We simply can’t wait for the worst-case scenarios to unfold when we have a solution such as the Delta Conveyance Project ready to be implemented. We don’t have to continue to live with the false choice of either drought or flood conditions year after year — instead, we can finally invest in climate-resilient infrastructure for our state.

David Bini is executive director of the Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council. Derrick Seaver is president and CEO of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce.

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