30 Jan 2009

Why the Peripheral Canal Will Happen

The simple answer is that politicians want it to happen -- no matter what the economists say. (The fact that some economists also support the PC is practically irrelevant; notice how Schwarzenegger is pushing for the PC without waiting for any scientific or economic justification.)

This case reminds me of when politicians ignored economists in making the decision to build the State Water Project (which was called the Feather River Project at the time). Read this 1957 paper [PDF] to see what the economists said.

They also ignored economists economics when they decided to build the Colorado River Aqueduct in the early 1930s. See Sections 3.2 and 3.3 of my dissertation for more on that.

Bottom Line: Politicians like to promise everything to everybody, but somebody has to pay -- and sometimes we ALL have to pay.


  1. One thing I've learned in my life is that if you do something half-assed, you get half-assed results.

    The peripheral canal was part of the original plan for the State Water Project, but didn't get built. A (properly operated) peripheral canal might have prevented a lot of the degradation of the ecosystem we're seeing now.

    Of course, no guarantee about the 'properly operated' part, and the water buffaloes haven't always been known to do the right thing...

  2. David -- You say that it will get built because the politicians want it; yet the criticism of the current DWR/Arnold proposal is that they are trying to do an end run around the Legislature. Maybe when you said "the politicians" you just meant Arnold and Feinstein.

  3. @Anon -- The Buffaloes have made some mistakes, esp. when they think dirt and cement instead of people and money.

    @Jerry -- Touché (But the Legislature is hardly a Temple of excellent policy.)

  4. If it gets built a source of funding will be required. The $9Billion bond does not even begin to build the PC. We will see whether the public will support this first investment. We are in the realm of "tea leaf reading" here, but my guess is that it will not be built, the traditional coalition between southern Ca and the San Joaquin Valley will collapse as southern Ca water agencies proceed with local, more reliable and self sufficient projects. MWDSC's traditional political power base will erode, their board will get increasingly cantankerous about the high cost and risky reliability of Delta water, and nothing will happen. Even if Arnold and DiFi had the clout and ability to actually authorize and appropriate funds, how long would it take to get past the litigation, engineering, planning, and implementation process to operational status? Would 10 years be too soon? How about 25 years as more realistic? Anything past 10 years and go back and read my description of southern CA water agency actions. They won't need the expensive, contentious, unreliable disaster they helped create in the Delta.

  5. @Steve -- good point. I'd agree except for SoCal's past successes in getting infrastructure that's funded by other people's money. 10+ years? Yep.

  6. Short run, canal doesn't get authorized. Believe it or not, things are not ugly enough for the stars to align.

    Longer run, the Met gets what it needs. As bad as the Delta is, the Colorado River is also becoming problematic for them. They will get reliable conveyance, sooner or later; it becomes sooner rather than later if the Delta blows through flood or earthquake.

    The cost of the canal is not the subject of the bond. Met has said that it will pay. The bond does cover some ecosystem "restoration" in the Delta that is likely a necessary adjuct to a canal, however.

    10 years, for sure, unless (as I said) the Delta blows sooner.


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