California’s Governor Plugs Up Jerry Brown’s Water Tunnel Plan

“Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration officially pulled the plug Thursday on the twin Delta tunnels,” the Sacramento Bee reports, and the governor thus fulfills his pledge to “downsize the project to a single pipe as he attempts to chart a new course for California’s troubled water-delivery system.” In one sense, this is good news.

As we noted, previous Governor Jerry Brown wanted two tunnels and the cost had surged to $20 billion. The original cost of $16 billion was still more than 2.5 times the benefits, according to Benefit-Cost Analysis of The California WaterFix, by Jeffrey Michael of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific.

Before any digging started, the project already struck corruption. According to the state auditor, the Department of Water Resources did not follow state law when they replaced the program manager and selected the Hallmark Group without a request for qualifications. The cost of the DWR’s deal with Hallmark jumped from $4.1 million to $13.8 million, and the DWR was handing out no-bid deals to contractors without vetting them. And the problems were not just financial.

As the Bee noted, the twin tunnels project “has been enormously controversial” with environmentalists, fishermen and Delta farmers. As these groups and taxpayers will note, Governor Newsom did not do away with the tunnel project altogether but simply reduced it to a single pipe. So critics might demand a new and independent cost-benefit analysis and monitor the project for sweetheart deals, no-bid contracts, and other waste, fraud, and abuse.

To lop off one tunnel on a pending massive project is not to reduce the size and cost of government. Taxpayers might watch to see which existing projects, redundant agencies, and bloated bureaucracies the governor opts to cut, if any. They might wonder if the vaunted high-speed rail project, which has spent more than $5 billion but yet to carry a single passenger, still needs a Sacramento headquarters and three regional offices. The high-speed rail board includes Lynn Schenk, a former congresswoman and chief of staff to Governor Gray Davis.

Taxpayers should monitor the single-pipe water project to see how many washed-up politicians, bureaucrats, state employees, and politically connected contractors it manages to serve before delivering a single drop of water.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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