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A plan to bring water to San Diego - will it float?

July 30, 2012 1:09 p.m.

GUESTS:

Rita Schmidt Sudman, Executive Director, The Water Education Foundation

Tom Wornham, Vice Chairman, San Diego County Water Authority, board of directors

Related Story: Will New Water Delivery System End San Diego's Water Wars?

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MARK SAUER: Gov. Brown proposes a multibillion-dollar tunnel project to bring water from the Sacramento River south to San Diego. This is KPBS midday edition. The governor last week endorsed an underground delivery network will get water from northern California south. He looked at the plans challenges and who will pay for it. Grad students at Scripps institution of oceanography discovered methane gas seeping deep water off the coast of San Diego. We'll learn what it all means. The old clubs production of inherit the wind ties the same escort better for the teaching of evolution to today's political debates. I'm Mark Sauer filling in for Maureen Cavanugh. KPBS Midday Edition is next. First the news. The governor offers strong backing to a plan for 37 mile long tunnels to deliver water from north to south. In a rich and rare flashes. Methane gas seen near San Diego's coast. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Mark Sauer filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Monday, July 30 Thanks for being with us. Today's top story on Midday Edition, the latest controversial water delivery plan. Gov. Brown teamed with US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar to endorse a plan for a $14 Billion water delivery system. He has to finally overcome entrenched conflicts over California's precious water. The plan calls for 37 mile long project beneath the San Joaquin River Delta at the heart of two thirds of California drinking water. Joining me in studio are Rita Schmidt Sudman, executive director of the water education foundation in Los Angeles. That's a nonprofit organization that delivers and implements education programs leading to a broader understanding of water issues. Welcome, Rita.

RITA SUDMAN: Well, I just want to say I'm up in Los Angeles. The foundation is coded in San Diego but covers issues all over the West. And I am a San Diego girl. I'm glad to be with you here today.

MARK SAUER: I'm glad to have you here. Thanks for clearing that up for us and Tom Wornham is the Vice-Chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors. Thanks for being here.

TOM WORNHAM: Mark, thanks for having me.

MARK SAUER: Let's start, Rita, with your education works to educate the public with water issues and water problems here in the West what can you tell us about the governors water plan, break it down for us.

RITA SUDMAN: I'm delighted to be here. As I said I used to work at the station and also channel 8 so when I went to northern California as a young reporter I covered Gov. Brown for the first time when he proposed this peripheral canal. But I do want to say that a lot of people are saying 30 years later we are bringing this back. It is not your father's peripheral canal. It's a totally different project. This time it's a tunnel under this area called the Delta. Now when I lived down here I had no idea where this Delta was but now I understand how the water from northern California Southern California rivers and even the Sierra converged there were two thirds of the people of California depend on getting their water through that area. 3,000,000 acres of farmland. So the contracts that were signed 50, 60 years ago do supply, agree that water will flow to central and southern California. So for all these years the fight has been out to do this. First of all in an efficient way for money. The Delta was where the pipes didn't connect. From the Sacramento River and coming up from the San Joaquin River. This area that flows in between out to San Francisco Bay. So the idea was well, you know we are going to put a canal around this and connect to these pumps and ship the water south. That never happened. I was thought up in the early 60s fought over by the people of California in a big issue in 1982. There were a lot of issues involved in needed to fight but one of them was this canal that was resoundingly defeated. Even by southern Californians because of cost issues. It was the first time that a major water project has been defeated by the people of California. And in northern California it was 921 almost like a Stalinist vote. So, go forward 30 years. And this area of the Delta is, it was very fragile. The folks at the Delta do a great job of propping up the levees which are mounds of dirt that separate these islands. And the folks find their and they have water rights going way back so that has to be respected. These levees so now we have seawater rise things that we didn't know years ago. They're smart earthquake concern then there was. So the idea is well let's try something new. Let's maybe put a tunnel under the Delta and, because the big problem also is that the fish are pulled to these pumps in the south part of the Delta and that's really destructive. Everybody agrees we are on the verge and this was shocking to me in recent years to understand how close we are to listen to whole Pacific Coast salmon. So I've traveled on, here but I hope I've given you an idea that this is the new thought and we can go into some of those pros and cons as we continue talking

MARK SAUER: Very complex and a lot of issues to let me invite our listeners in here to if you have a comment and opinion and you'd like to share with us, this number is 188-895-5727. Tom, does this plan have the backing of the San Diego County water Authority?

TOM WORNHAM: I think in the long run it will. And first of all I think we want to make sure that we applaud Gov. Brown and Sec. Salazar and all the work that has been put into this solution. Because there has been a tremendous amount of work over the years. We've also supported the coequal vocals of making sure we having eco-medication and restoration as well as convenience for the Delta solution but now is where the hard work starts which is making sure that the solution is right sized. We need to know how much water we really need and perhaps most in partly to the ratepayers of San Diego is going to pay for it.

MARK SAUER: Right and that is going to be tough one going forward

TOM WORNHAM: Exactly.

MARK SAUER: Give us a sense of the timeline.

TOM WORNHAM: : This is part of the habitat plan that in order to keep pumping water to Central and Southern California, the big problem is the Endangered Species Act. That trumps everything. So the habitat plan is where restoration would go on and not Delta and this idea of the tunnel to avoid the fish kill. And this is also planned on the Colorado River and it ensured that San Diego the Colorado River water because basically the agencies all agree that if you are making a good-faith effort to take care of the fish we will give you the permits to keep pumping this water. So that's part of this whole thing. It's a habitat plan in the Delta connected with this tunnel. The pros and cons, you know, many folks are very worried that this would suck too much water from the Sacramento River and from the Delta and really in the water game it's all about assurances and trust. It's like a marriage. If there is interest you could have the greatest thing written down on a piece of paper but if you don't feel you can trust each other. And in the water world people argue back and forth until the last minute in that they seem to make a deal. So we're in a. Right now.

MARK SAUER: That. could go on you are involved in a back-and-forth

TOM WORNHAM: We are and we hope to continue to be because at the end of today let's be realistic we in San Diego are at the end of a very fragile pipeline and also at the end of a river that is drying up so it's critical that we recognize that we need to continue to diversify our sources of water which the water authority has done and will continue to do. At the end of the day when we have a solution put in place for the Delta it's going to cost a large number.

MARK SAUER: What are some of the numbers they are throwing out now?

TOM WORNHAM: They're talking about anything from 14,000,000 to 23,000,000,000 depending on the sex and the extent so it's got the right size because this is a California solution. Everyone from northern California to central California to Southern California will and needs to benefit from this. As a reader pointed out we are dealing with a conveyance system that is 100 years old. Those levees were constructed by immigrant labor over a century ago.

MARK SAUER: (They would have) to be rebuilt.

TOM WORNHAM: the fragile conveyance system would not survive a seismic event of perhaps a to this one you are talking about the eighth largest economy on the planet in California that is basically holding on and is so fragile it does make sense that we as Californians fix this, but we need to make sure that it is right sized and that all of us pay our fair share. So as the example in San Diego and in the Metropolitan water surface area, we want to make sure that our 25 halo agencies, we all if we are going to be part of the solution we all have signed up for our fair share of the fix.

MARK SAUER: It gets back to the point of trust you are making, Rita

RITA SUDMAN: It gets back to trust him when you talk about the cost I have to say through the years of covering this issue when I first started water was really cheap. I mean you rented an apartment it was thrown in with the rent. Farmers. Sometimes three dollars an acre foot, an acre foot is sometimes little family or two families using a year. Water was really cheap it isn't anymore. A lot of reforms have been done and I credit agriculture for really cleaning up its act whether it wanted to or not because water became more expensive so we are very efficient in our use in California and in San Diego in Southern California and I'm constantly telling this to my northern California friends, they have the best records of conservation. Because I get like have to pay more for something think about what it costs energy wise to pump water over 2000 feet over the (Tahatchopee) mountains to get it done here so that you can get up here to form avocados which you don't do enough anymore and get it to people so I do want people to understand that I'm sorry it's not a good message that we will be able to get you water cheaper. I will never happen again. Those days are over. It's efficient use, recycling is something people should be afraid of. It can be done in a great, good way. So, cost we are not sure of the cost of this thing but one thing is for sure that the water users the Metropolitan water District primarily have said that they will shoulder the burden. It's kind of to keep the people in northern California from going totally ballistic although they are on the verge right now. They would pay for that tunnel, most of the tunnel.

MARK SAUER: let me ask Tom speaking of costs that reduce talking about what are we looking at here for the great peers.

TOM WORNHAM: I think that's difficult, the billion-dollar question.

MARK SAUER: Multibillion-dollar

TOM WORNHAM: exactly several the be lucky if it was 1 billion. Exactly what Rita was talking about the 25% commitment, that they are going to step up to within that family, with we are we are a significant portion of week by a significant portion of minutes water, so it behooves us to make sure we have a happy healthy met going forward, but we and the other 25 members need to be willing to step up and commit for whatever financial commitment we collectively are going to have but we also need to understand what that is going to look like because we need to understand what the demand is going to be we need to understand what the costs are going to be being a retired banker let me put it in this perspective. You would go into a financial deal without understanding what the financial dynamics were, right? You don't do faith-based budgeting. So we all want a solution to water, trust me. Nobody wants us more than a sitting down here in the far left-hand corner of the desert.

RITA SUDMAN: So I have heard Metropolitan people say and I've seen it in print in who knows whether they will stick to that, but they are figuring the cost of the tunnel for an average rate. Is $7-$10 a month. Who knows if that will be what it is if this thing ever gets done in 10 years and this thing never happened. Again this may be the next water fight. When I saw the governor show so much force in a press conference I haven't seen not out of him

MARK SAUER: We had to bleep him out.

TOM WORNHAM: It was nice to see him as animated about water as he is.

RITA SUDMAN: It's been interesting he's been governor a year and a half and he certainly has had a blot on his plate. I have been able to get a personal interview with him and I've interviewed all the governors, so

MARK SAUER: We will call him and rectify that

TOM WORNHAM: Anyway when he was at the press conference he really showed forcefulness and he just said I just came to a funeral of a friend and 30 years ago this was argued now it's not the same thing but I'm going to push this thing through. Those are fighting words and there are votes folks that are going to be really upset about that, but I do think whenever a government gets involved in a water issue, M a lot is brought to bear as far as making compromise. And I'm glad to see him engaged.

MARK SAUER: Is that the key compromise this plan is 10 years out what do we need to do now to get it going, get it launched.

TOM WORNHAM: This will require the cooperation of all parts of California, the North, the South and the central Valley. You're also going to have to have the environmental community and the conveyance community, we have Fords like mitigation. You know we are going to have to work together to really figure out what does restoration and mitigation look like?

RITA SUDMAN: One thing is that the environmental community is split on this. To be fair to them I see that about half of them, the more nature Conservancy types are for this plan because they say it is a compromise that really helps the fish. Others are really against it. Delta farmers are really against it. People who think that the water originates in northern California is called, their water are often against us. They don't realize we have laws and have to share this. There's a lot of them are fighting, there's my studies. The studies that have come out so far are connected with interest groups. I want to see more studies that are independent. There's time to work this out. Like I said they will probably fight to the last minute, make a deal. Who knows what the production of this project, if it will really ever happen, but it could happen and that's what we are talking about today.

MARK SAUER: And probably it will be long, Jerry Brown will be part of history by the time it comes.

RITA SUDMAN: Like the other governors who have weighed in on this thing.

TOM WORNHAM: Don't ever write Jerry off. He can always come back like the mini Terminator. But I do think it's really great to see the governor take an active role in this because wherever we are in this issue we need this fixed.

RITA SUDMAN: We need people to learn where water comes from and get involved, folks.

MARK SAUER: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank Rita Sudman and Tom Wornham for being with us here today will have information on the proposed water delivery project in links on the website KPBS.org. You are listening to Midday Edition on KPBS.