California Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial water-diversion project in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area was given the green light by federal wildlife agencies as the state continues to seek required permits that are critical to starting construction on the project.


The $17-billion plan would build two massive, 35-mile-long tunnels under the delta that moves water from Northern California to the south. The decision made by the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a critical step — but by no means final — in the large project proposal. The agencies concluded that the construction of the tunnels would not harm or endanger wildlife species in the area.


However, a group of environmentalists and fishermen — the plaintiffs — have filed the first of what is expected to be many, many lawsuits challenging the project. The suit came just four days after the federal agency approved the tunnels. The plaintiffs argue that the findings by the agency violate the U.S. Endangered Species Act. They believe the construction and operation of the tunnels (also known as “WaterFix”) will significantly degrade environmental conditions in the delta, harming fish and wildlife. The suit asks the court to order the federal agencies to withdraw their opinions.


While the project has seen a major mark, there is still a lot that needs to happen before construction can begin and dirt can be sifted. Permits and approvals are required; one of the most important permits would divert water at three new locations in the Sacramento River — essentially creating a new water right.


The State Water Resource Control Board, the agency in charge of issuing diversion permits, has held 53 days of public hearing on the three proposed locations. It’s unclear how many more days of hearing are required before a decision is made. Most permits are largely approved by a lone government official after reviewing extensive environmental studies. This case is unique because of the broad public hearing and yet it’s largely flying under the radar.


The Delta Tunnels Project proposes to construct two 40ft (12m) diameter tunnels, each 150ft (46m) below the surface. The goal is to divert a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow to three massive new intakes on the riverbank. The tunnels would then push water 35 miles south to state and federal distribution canals.


Before the state can begin their project, eminent domain will likely be required to acquire land. We will continue to follow this project as plans evolve. If you think your property or business may be taken for the WaterFix project, you can learn more about your options by giving us a call at (866) EM-DOMAIN.