Just a few month ago, the Delta Tunnels, dubbed the WaterFix, was sputtering due to a lack of funds and environmental hurdles. Governor Jerry Brown’s administration was forced to consider a phased-in approach that called for building one tunnel, followed by a second tunnel only if enough money became available.
The tunnel project was revived when the giant Metropolitan Water District of Southern California agreed to spend $10.8 billion on the $17 billion project. More life was recently breathed into the project when, in a surprising and dramatic reversal, Silicon Valley’s largest water district approved a plan to commit up to $650 million. Initially, the Santa Clara board indicated it would spending only about $200 million on the Delta Tunnels and only if the project followed the phased-in approach.
The shift in commitment has many questioning whether the water agency struck a deal with the Brown administration to support the tunnels in exchange for state funding for a new damn that agency wants to build.
Still facing environmental legal challenges, one of California’s Republican congressmen may have come up with a solution to help the water project reach completion: ban environmental lawsuits. Rep, Ken Calvert released a 142-page spending bill, and tucked into the bill on page 141 is a brief provision that would prohibit any state and federal lawsuits against the environmental impact report.
“After more than a decade of studies and more than 50,000 pages of environmental documents, all of the project’s stakeholders have had a plethora of opportunities to express their thoughts and concerns,” Calvert said in a statement.
Environmental groups are crying foul. “Regardless of how anyone feels about the Delta tunnels, this piece of legislation sets dangerous precedent for California,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a tunnels opponent.
If Calvert’s provision becomes law, it would make moot the 20 active lawsuits that have been filed against the project by more than 58 parties opposed to the project.
However, it’s not a done deal. The proposed legislation will need to advance through Congress. It’s likely to face resistance from Democrats, and could stall in the Senate. According to political experts, the bill will likely pass through the House and face little resistance from President Trump or Gov. Brown.
The bigger threat to the WaterFix will be political. With Brown retiring at the end of 2018, the project loses its major champion. None of the current leading candidates for governor this year support building both the tunnels.
What the final project will look like, and which landowners might be affected, is still unclear. We will continue to follow this story as it develops. If you think your property or business may be taken for the WaterFix project or affected by eminent domain for any other project, you can learn more about your options by giving us a call at (866) EM-DOMAIN.