The Delta Tunnel is not a social justice project.

The pro-Delta Tunnel, pro Water Blueprint crowd, the guys supporting plantation agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley, are living in this moment, just as we are. Seeing where the energy is going, they’re trying to use the language of the moment. It has been unfortunate. The SJV Water Blueprint tried to claim they were doing community organizing. Their consultants did a better job with the visual language of Blueprint outreach; now everything has the same triptych of [some heron, children drinking, and a meeting] and I can’t tell it anyone apart any more without reading the text. Over the weekend, CalMatters put this appalling opinion piece on their website, and honestly, CalMatters, do you have no standards for throwing up any old crap that gets submitted to you?

The heart of Mr. Kremen’s claim in the CalMatter’s piece is that without the tunnel, cross-Delta water transfers will cease, leading to fewer irrigated acres, leading to higher food prices, which will have the worst impact on the poor. That’s a bad take, second only to “if there’s less ag, the poors won’t have ag jobs“. Maintaining a low wage/cheap food regime isn’t social justice. The socially just response is to reallocate hoarded wealth to pay everyone well enough that they can afford food that doesn’t stay cheap by gouging labor, animals, and the environment.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kremen opened his piece with this claim:

As California confronts increasing water challenges, the most equitable statewide solution from a social justice perspective is the single-tunnel project proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, known as the Delta Conveyance Project.

If the goal is social justice, let’s talk about what else we could do with the $11B dollars that the Delta tunnel will cost.

  • We could ask everyone in the Valley to rank ways to spend $11B to help the Valley and see whether the Delta Tunnel is in the top hundred.
  • We could give $1.5B each to the general funds of Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno, Merced, Modesto, Stockton and Turlock.
  • If there are 500,000 farmworkers in the SJV, we could write every one of them a check for $22,000.
  • The Safe and Affordable Drinking Water fund is on the order of $200M. For the $11B of the Delta Tunnel, we could make it 55 times bigger.

The possibilities go on and on. If the $11B were an endowment, it could issue a basic income to everyone in poverty in the San Joaquin Valley.

There are some good lessons here. First, the Delta Tunnels are an engineering solution to a set of problems in the Delta and the state. They aren’t a social justice solution and calling them one is ridiculous. Second, if we are in the business of doing $11B social justice programs, they should be designed and run by the people who understand social justice work in the Valley, not rich white engineers from a coastal city. Third, people whose interests are in upholding the current social and economic system are using the language of change. This last CalMatters essay was too laughable to fool anyone, but as ever, these pieces require a critical read and understanding of the author.


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5 responses to “The Delta Tunnel is not a social justice project.

  1. John Ragozzino

    There hasn’t been a major water infrastructure project in the past 60 years, yet the California population has tripled. How long can this inaction continue?

  2. bizgnus

    We would like permission to republish in its entirety this opinion piece, along with a link back to your website.



    • onthepublicrecord

      Hi Doug,

      Could you please email me at onthepublicrecord @ ?



  3. Noel Park

    Characterizing the “conveyance” as a “social justice” project would be laughable if it was not another example of the relentless spin and propaganda designed to BS the public into supporting it.

    The “conveyance” is just another example of corporate welfare for agribusiness and, to a much lesser extent, for the development of urban sprawl in the southern part of the state.

    The unholy alliance which somehow motivates the MWD to pay for it when 80+% of the benefits go to the likes of Westlands is beyond my poor understanding.

  4. Chris Gulick

    Don’t weaken, a free press is our last best defense. Keep writing.
    I don’t always have the energy to respond, but, I always read your stuff. Does that make me a “lurker” ?