The editorial below from the Riverside Press-Enterprise speaks for itself.
Water trumps rail
Gov. Jerry Brown has the state's top infrastructure priorities half right. California badly needs to shore up the state's primary water system. But a bullet train project threatens to become a costly boondoggle. The governor should push ahead with water plans, and sidetrack the high-speed rail proposal before it rolls over taxpayers.
Brown last week voiced renewed support for the state's bullet train plans. Noting concerns about the project's viability and cost, the governor said he would work with the panel overseeing the train to help "get its act together." Brown also said he would present a plan for the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by next summer. The delta is a vital hub for water exports to Southern California and the Central Valley.
The delta surely should be a top priority for the governor and Legislature. Water that flows through the estuary serves two-thirds of the state's population, including about a third of Inland residents, and irrigates millions of acres of farmland.
But the delta faces environmental decline from invasive species, pollution and other issues which threaten the continued flow of exports. And the delta is ringed by miles of aging, deteriorating levees putting the water source at risk should an earthquake or other natural disaster hit the area.
The most promising solution would be a way to route water exports around the delta, instead of sending those supplies through the troubled estuary. Brown last week mentioned a "conveyance" system a channel around or through the delta though he did not offer specifics. But the drier areas of the state, along with California's vast agriculture industry, will struggle to thrive if policymakers do not ensure a reliable flow of exported water.
A bullet train, by contrast, represents no essential public need, and Brown should rethink his advocacy of the project. The California High-Speed Rail Authority envisions a system that will whisk passengers between Southern California and the Bay Area at speeds of up to 220 mph.
The rail project, however, faces troubling questions about cost and funding that should derail this train. The rail authority already projects that work on the first two segments, running from Merced to Bakersfield, would cost $10 billion to $13.9 billion far more than the 2009 estimate of up to $8.1 billion. Those numbers suggest the cost of entire system would far exceed the $43 billion price tag the rail authority estimated in 2009.
The project also counts on $17 billion to $19 billion in federal funding, but Washington has allocated just $3.6 billion so far. Massive federal deficits make more funding unlikely. An infusion of public dollars, however, is necessary to help attract the $10 billion to $12 billion in private financing the authority needs.
Rising costs and improbable funding signal a disaster in the making. Granted, the delta presents a host of political and practical challenges, as well. But California has to address the delta woes to ensure a sufficient water supply for the future. The state can survive just fine without the needless expense of a bullet train.
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