Building the California Water Fix Tunnels Will Ensure Reliable Access to Water



Currently, the areas around of the San Joaquin Delta that serves the state’s important water intake pumps could best be described as a wild labyrinth of canals and levees, constructed from peat bricks supplemented with blasted Sierra Nevada rock and silt.  To the State Water Project these levee and canal structures represent a potential disaster-zone-in-waiting should a substantial earthquake hit the Delta area and cause a breach of levees and subsequent flooding – an event that could cause the state to lose control of the fresh water flow that serves 25 million California residents and multiple farms in the San Joaquin Valley.

Therefore, proponents of the proposed twin tunnel water diversion plan, namely the state of California, explicitly argue that building the water diversion system from the Sacramento River and underneath the Delta is absolutely imperative if the State of California wants to ensure that water delivery to municipalities and agriculture is not disrupted should a destructive natural disaster strike the network of levees in the Delta.

Illustration showing how the new tunnels would be buried underneath the San Joaquin Delta

In addition to just simply conveying water through the Delta, the levee and canal system, built over the past 100 years, is also designed to keep encroaching saltwater from San Francisco Bay tides out of the fresh water.

Islands created by the levee and canal system in the Delta

What has resulted from the levees are islands, which are now home to upwards of 400,000 people and  successful farms.  In the event of a sizeable earthquake in the area of the Delta, levees could be compromised, flooding the islands, heightening the potential for losing access to fresh water.   State of California officials argue that if the levees are compromised, the saltwater could contaminate the fresh water for upwards of a few years, which could cripple California’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry.


A breached earthen levee on the Sacramento River

Professors Scott Brandenburg and Jonathan Stewart of the UCLA School of Civil and Environmental Engineering say “seismically induced failures of levees are not the product of imaginative speculation. They have been observed elsewhere around the world (mainly Japan).”  They continue by imploring that: “we ignore the potential for seismic failure of levees in California at our peril. We must do all we can to prevent these catastrophic failures from affecting our water supply.”

California Governor Brown speaks about the state’s water issues

Therefore, proponents of building the twin-tunnelled water diversion system around the San Joaquin Delta are adamant that in order to ensure reliability to fresh water to upwards of 25 million people and the agricultural economy, building the tunnels is absolutely necessary. Governor Brown agrees and says the project  “ an imperative. It must move forward.. This is not just some piece of rhetoric … this is a serious effort on the part of the federal authorities, state authorities.”

For proponents of the California Water Fix’s plan to build the new diversion tunnels, the choice is clear, that in order to ensure a reliable source of water for Southern Californian and some Bay Area municipalities, and the state’s large agribusiness economy, this project must move forward.  Although the tunnel project is not without its opponents, a subject which I will explore in coming posts, proponents have made a strong case for the necessity of expanding the water harnessing infrastructure for the state of California.






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