Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Jonathan Rice makes this connection here…

The article Will Twin Tunnels Water Project Float?” was published by U-T San Diego on March 30, 2013. This water resources engineering issue relates mainly to hydraulics, as it is focused on the distribution, movement, and mechanics of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta to a currently existing aqueduct to bring water to southern California cities such as San Diego (U-T San Diego 2013). Additionally, this article also relates to the occurrence of water, as it is due to the uneven occurrence of freshwater that these tunnels have been proposed to be built. The article begins with a description of the vast size of the two tunnels, the expected timeline of their completion and of a canal project that was proposed to do the same thing but was rejected by voters in 1982. It is mentioned that the tunnels will each be tall enough to fit an adult giraffe, be wide enough for 3 freeway lanes, and be able to service 35,000 homes on a regular day (U-T San Diego 2013). The timeline would consist of a 2016 groundbreaking and a 2026 ribbon-cutting at a total cost of $16 billion. It also states that approximately two-thirds of the state’s drinking water flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. Towards the end of the article, alternatives are mentioned such as a single, smaller tunnel that would be less expensive, easier to build, and would come online much sooner. The article also mentions the vast increase in population since 1982; from 24 million in 1982 to 38 million today; this may be the reason for at least some of California’s water troubles. This story is correct in that southern California has a large need for water, as the lake evaporation in many parts of southern California is much greater than the mean annual precipitation (Wurbs and James 2002). What was missed by the story is that although this project could substantially alleviate southern California’s water woes, there is no silver bullet solution for a global problem such as access to water (CNN World 2013). Southern California will need to do much more than pipe water from northern California if it hopes to sustainably have water over the next century and beyond. The article completely left out necessary actions that will be needed in addition to the construction of any tunnels; the need for water conservation measures, the need to reuse grey water where possible, and the possible necessity of growing fewer water-heavy crops in its central valley.


Figure 1: A Schematic Showing the Proposed Tunnels’ Location (U-T San Diego 2013)

This article relates to the broader context of economics in that the central valley and southern California are highly dependent on water for both agriculture as well as high-tech uses such as computer chip manufacturing, and depending on how this project will be funded, those sectors could greatly benefit from an increased water availability. It also relates to the broader context of the environment because the tunnels would have less of an impact on the delta region once they are completed, and would do a much better job of protecting fish like smelt and salmon than the current pumps and pipes do; on the other hand, though, it might also hurt fish populations as freshwater that they need to survive is piped south to San Diego, and more saltwater intrusion is apt to occur. Lastly, this article relates to the broader context of society in that it affects residents of northern and southern California, and that it will force them to work together to decide upon the best plan of action for both of their respective regions. Wurbs and James also relates to some of the problems facing the delta in their coverage of Shasta Dam, which is used to prevent inflows of salt water into the delta region as well as to provide hydropower (Wurbs and James 2002). In closing, this is an important news story because it highlights how anthropogenic water use can greatly affect natural water systems, water availability, and wildlife that rely on those waters through overuse of water and neglect of the natural systems that provide that water.   


Gardner, Michael. “Will Twin Tunnels Water Project Float?.” U-T San Diego 30 MAR 2013, n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/mar/30/twin-tunnels-delta-water-project/?page=1#article-copy>.

 James, Wesley, and Ralph Wurbs. Water Resources Engineering. 1st ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. 61,71,779. Print.

Peppard, Christiana. “The Resource Problem You Probably Haven’t Heard About.” CNN World 22 MAR 2013, n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/22/the-resource-problem-you-probably-havent-heard-about/?iref=storysearch>.