A more nuanced message on Delta tunnels

Delta tunnels proponents really want you to read the latest blog post by fish experts Peter Moyle and James Hobbs. The project’s official Twitter account, @CAWaterFix, has tweeted links to the post six times over the past day.

“Dr. Moyle & Dr. Hobbs explain why they are optimistic about #CAWaterFix from a fish perspective,” one tweet reads.

The scientists do share some reasons for optimism, explaining their “qualified support” for the project. But they use just as much digital ink, maybe more, describing the potential pitfalls of this “giant experiment that may or may not work as promised, no matter what the models and experts say.”

The new fish screens on the Sacramento River will be “pushing screening technology to the limit,” Moyle and Hobbs write. If something unexpected happens, it is unclear exactly how the adaptive management process will function and how decisions will be made. And the scientists acknowledge that it may be hard for skeptics to accept official promises that the project will not result in a substantial increase in water exports from the Delta.

The trust concern ties back to issues like the temporary urgency change petitions that Gov. Jerry Brown used to weaken Delta water quality standards and save more water during the drought, without going through the standard environmental review process. For tunnels opponents, that begs the question: What will some future governor do when the first drought strikes a tunneled Delta? What will happen to the rules that are supposed to govern tunnels operations? Will Lucy pull away the football?

Same thing with Congress, which seems to be perpetually considering legislation that would ramp up Delta exports. Who will be in power in 2035, after the tunnels become operational? 2040? 2050? What will the political climate be then? Will someone try to override Delta protections? Of course, there’s no way to tell.

Reducing exports may actually be the best chance for endangered fish, the scientists conclude in their post, but the “realities of California water politics” make such an outcome unlikely. Of the remaining alternatives, they say, the tunnels are best.

All of this is simply to suggest that we read the full post. Don’t just really on summaries (including this one) or whatever supporters or opponents are saying on social media. Moyle and Hobbs deliver a nuanced message.

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