In series of blows, the twin tunnels – a project intended to remake the troubled San Joaquin estuary and improve water deliveries to the southern half of California – has been put into serious question. In a landmark vote, Silicon Valley’s largest water agency unanimously rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17.1 billion pet project.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District board of directors endorsed a smaller, less costly one-tunnel project. Brown’s original plan was to build two concrete tunnels, each 40-feet high and 35-miles long. They would be constructed 150 feet under the Delta. The vast network of sloughs and wetlands between San Francisco Bay and Sacramento is a linchpin of water supplies for two-thirds of California’s residents and millions of acres of farmland.
The vote, following last month’s rejection by the Westland Water District, which was to have put forward $3 billion, throws the viability of the project into question. Despite the $4 billion commitment by the Metropolitan Water District last week and the $1 billion commitment by Kern County, estimates show a $6 billion gap in Brown’s $17.1 billion project. Santa Clara Valley Water District would have contributed at least $620 million to the project — more than $1 billion when financing costs are included. In the end, the board decided the cost was too high and the benefits too undefined.
“Rather than build more large infrastructure, there are better ways to address California’s water needs,” said Roberta Hollimon with the League of Women Voters of Santa Clara County, as quoted in The Mercury News.
Brown’s administration officials have said that two tunnels are needed for redundancy, in case something happens to one. The one-tunnel idea, in concept, has won support from many water agencies and is more likely to get approved.
Analysts believe that water agencies have been reluctant to commit financially in large part due to the complicated cost-allocation formula imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Bureau says the tunnels aren’t an official reclamation project, and, as a result, the federal government won’t contribute any funds and customers are free to opt out. They told one major group of customers that, because of historic water rights, its supplies are so secure it could do without the tunnels anyway.
For now, it looks like the 300 farms that are required to complete the project are safe.
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