After state officials said that they will press ahead with a scaled-down, $10.7-billion version of the long-planned Delta Tunnels, the massive two-tunnel project in the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is still a viable option, in large part, thanks to Southern California’s most powerful water agency.
The decision to pursue a one-tunnel project that would extend 35 miles under the Delta came after the Brown administration faced issues with getting California’s water agencies to pay for the entire $17-billion project. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is talking about pouring in an extra $6 billion, beyond their original pledge, which could allow the twin tunnels to be built at the same time — as opposed to building the tunnels in two phases. This would give Metropolitan a majority stake in the controversial project.
So far, the concept of the Metropolitan taking on a larger share of the project cost is in its exploratory stages. The staff is pulling together financial analyses to explore the viability of covering the costs and selling some of the water to surrounding agencies.
Critics of the project see Metropolitan’s efforts to revive the project as a “water grab”. “It would certainly raise a lot of concerns to have Metropolitan controlling the Delta tunnels,” said WaterFix critic Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. In 2016, it was Metropolitan that had critics dismayed when they purchased a cluster of islands in the Delta – possibly to help with the construction of the project – for $175 million.
A one-tunnel plan has many opponents calling for the state to scrap the permit approval and begin anew. Jan McCleery, president of the Save the California Delta Alliance, said that the phased approach could cause more harm to the Delta region, because the construction timeline would be extended, causing greater disruption to the environment and the Delta communities. The effort to require a new environmental report could set the project back months or longer.
If Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is able to cover the $6 billion additional investment, we could see a two-tunnel project being built sooner than we thought. The Water Board issued a memo that it will be hearing the input from both sides regarding the impact of a phased construction approach. A ruling is expected soon. Just when we thought the project was headed to a single-tunnel phased-construction plan, the twin-tunnels appears to be revived.
There is a lot of uncertainty which way the project will go. 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.