Brown administration working to scale down $17 billion Delta tunnels project


DeltaTunnelsgraphic

Faced with a shortage of money and political support after seven years of work, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is working on a plan to scale back one of his key legacy projects, a $17 billion proposal to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to move water from Northern California to the south.

Instead of two tunnels, each 40 feet high and 35 miles long, Brown’s Department of Water Resources has been negotiating with major California water agencies in recent weeks on a revised plan to build just one tunnel at slightly more than half the cost of the original project.

The new plan reflects the reality that Brown only has one year remaining in office and that the original project has failed to win enough financial backing from water agencies around California whom Brown was asking to pay for construction.

The new approach — a huge shift in the often-intractable world of California’s water politics that has implications on everything from the environment to the water bills of millions of people — could be announced in the next month, said Jeff Kightlinger, CEO of the influential Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 20 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego and other areas.

“I’m hopeful this will be seen as a kinder gentler, more agreeable approach,” said Kightlinger.

Rather than two tunnels with a capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second, which is about 4 million gallons per minute, as the original project calls for, the one-tunnel proposal would carry between 3,000 and 6,000 cubic feet per second, Kightlinger said.

The two-tunnel project could still be saved in its current form, Kightlinger said. But he conceded that it is increasingly unlikely, given the fact that major players such as Westlands Water District in Fresno and the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose voted in recent months not to fund it. But in negotiations over two vs. one tunnel, there are nearly enough commitments from water agencies to get close to funding a smaller, one-tunnel project, he said.

“Unless we can figure out the money in the next 30 days, which seems really difficult, my hunch is we’re heading toward the latter,” he said.

“I think there’s a pretty decent chance it will happen,” he added. “You need about $10 billion to get to the single-barrel approach. I think we’re pretty close to having that.”

Bay Area News Group

Kightlinger said the project could be built in phases, with a second tunnel an option in the plan but with no timetable for construction. “Whether or not that ever happens, who knows,” he said.

Environmental groups have fought the twin tunnels plan and vowed to tie them up in court over concerns that the project could allow large San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California cities to potentially take more water in the future from Northern California, harming the Delta’s fragile ecosystem. But in 2013, several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League, Defenders of Wildlife …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News

      

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