Bechtel family wades into California’s water wars

  • Published on June 9th, 2011

Bechtel-constructed oil facility in KuwaitOne reason a lot of powerful folks want to see a peripheral canal built in California is… money. A whole lot of money.

It’ll take billions to build the canal, there are billions to be made exporting vast amounts of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Southern California (and to NorCal big agribusiness). And there will be more billions to be made cleaning up the mess that will make – because the same huge companies will bid on those contracts, too.

Economy vs. Environment?

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) will hold a Bechtel Foundation-funded program in San Francisco on June 15 to promote plans to build the peripheral canal. The event, “Managing California’s Water: Economy vs. Environment?,” is funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and other sponsors and runs from 4:30-6:00 p.m. at the PPIC Bechtel Conference Center, 500 Washington Street.

Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. is the retired chairman and a director of the Bechtel Group, Inc. He is the son of Stephen David Bechtel, Sr. and grandson of Warren A. Bechtel who founded the Bechtel Corporation, the largest engineering firm in the United States.

“Water in California has become a source of increasing conflict,” the announcement for the program states. “Current policies are failing to meet demands for water supply reliability, water quality, and flood protection. Meanwhile, freshwater aquatic ecosystems are in sharp decline. Drawing on a recent PPIC report, Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation, this event will explore new approaches to balancing economic and environmental goals for sustainable water management.”

Unfortunately, one of the key “new approaches” cited in the report is a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem – the peripheral canal. Page 5 of the report proclaims the necessity of a peripheral canal or tunnel to achieve the “co-equal goals” of water supply and ecosystem restoration.

“In a reconciled Delta, dams and water diversions would be reoperated to create a ‘natural flow regime’ that captures or accentuates some of the variability under which native species once thrived, thereby also making conditions less favorable for some invasive species. A peripheral canal or tunnel, diverting water exports around or underneath the Delta, would allow some water exports to continue while ending the disruptive effects of pumping water through the heart of the Delta,” the report states.

-> Next page: Bechtel’s brutal and destructive history

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.