Faced with scarce political support and incomplete funding from water agencies in California, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is proposing a scaled-back project to his original $17-billion proposal to build two massive tunnels under that Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that would make it easier to divert water from Northern to Southern California.
Instead of two 40-foot wide and 35-mile long tunnels, the Brown Administration has been negotiating with California’s water agencies on a revised one-tunnel plan that would cost slightly more than the original project.
The new proposal comes after Brown failed to win enough financial support from California’s water agencies, who Brown is asking to pay for the construction of the tunnels. Earlier in October, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California committed more than $4 billion — a quarter of the total project costs — to the Delta tunnels. However, it hasn’t been enough. When farmers of the Westlands Water District refused to commit, a multibillion-dollar hole in funding was left.
In negotiations over a one-tunnel proposal, nearly all of funds the state needs have been committed by California’s water agencies. “You need about $10 billion to get to the single-barrel approach,” said Jeff Kightlinger, CEO of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “I think we’re pretty close to having that.”
The Department of Water Resources and the water agencies are still negotiating and the one-tunnel solution isn’t guaranteed. There are hopes negotiations will conclude in the next few weeks. It’s possible the project could be built in two phases, where a second tunnel is an option but with no timetable for construction.
Opponents of the Delta tunnels believe a single-tunnel project still creates risk for wildlife and the Delta ecosystem. “The problem with a somewhat smaller version is that it still lacks all the safeguards required to ensure that it will not destroy the environment and economy of the Bay Delta estuary,” said Jonas Minton, a senior water analyst with the Planning and Conservation League.
Environmental groups say a single-tunnel project is very different than the one that was originally planned and should require a fresh set of environmental reviews and other regulatory permits, which could mean months of costly delays. It would also include a restart on water-right hearings that are currently underway and have been for the last two years.
A lengthy Delta tunnels hearing has been delayed for two weeks as state officials consider claims of illegal meetings between tunnel proponents and the agency that is supposed to judge the project. The hearing could culminate with the water board approving one of the permits that the Department of Water Resources needs to build the tunnels.
A one-tunnel project could result in less parcels being needed. What form the delta tunnel project will ultimately take, if at all, is still unknown. We will keep following this project as it may impact homeowners and businesses. If you think your property or business may be taken for the WaterFix project or any other project, you can learn more about your options by giving us a call at (866) EM-DOMAIN.