The Record (Stockton): Delta plan needs sun

December 18, 2012 

Excerpted from The Record (Stockton).

State officials have finally said they will do what critics have urged for years: a cost-benefit analysis of a multibillion-dollar plan to siphon water from north of the Delta, ship it around or under the estuary, and send it south to south valley farms and south state residents.

But because officials are playing down this obvious position reversal -- "This is a step in the process," one said -- it understandably raises angst among critics who fear the whole thing will be a whitewash.

That's not to pre-judge the work of University of California at Berkeley professor David Sunding who will lead the study.

It is to get a red flag ready in case, as University of the Pacific economist Jeff Michael warned, a cost-benefit analysis simply produces the result the authors want.

Proposed is a $14 billion conveyance system to move water from south of Sacramento to pumps near Tracy where it will be sent south. The system, the so-called Bay Delta Conservation Plan, will involve either tunnels under the Delta or a canal around it.

Critics reasonably question how removing inflow to the Delta will improve the already environmentally fragile estuary.

Further, critics worry that without the pressure of freshwater coming into the Delta from the north, saltwater would intrude, destroying farmland and poisoning water wells.

Done right, a cost-benefit study should address such concerns spelling out in detail if it will cost more to push ahead than the benefit expected.

"They gave an indication that they were very open and interested in feedback to make sure they covered everything," Pacific's Michael said.

The important thing is not only to make sure they are open and cover everything, but that they don't cover up anything.

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