Redesigned water tunnels reignite Calif. water wars

July 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
California is moving forward with a controversial plan to move water for farming and drinking around the state.

Wednesday Governor Jerry Brown unveiled plans for a system to carry water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Central and Southern California. It is a massive twin-tunnel system. It would run from Freeport, south of Sacramento to a pumping plant near Tracy, and then move the water into existing aqueducts. This multi-billion-dollar proposal is reigniting water wars.

With the blessing of the Obama administration, Governor Brown says he's figured out how to fix the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta problems so water from Northern California can be delivered to the farmlands of the Central Valley and the thirsty cities of Southern California.

With three new pumps that divert water from the northern end instead of the southern end, it involves building a massive twin-tunnel system under the delta south of Sacramento, then hooking them up with existing aqueducts. Water users would pay for the nearly $14-billion construction of the tunnels, and taxpayers would bear the cost of habitat restoration through an $11-billion water bond that's on the ballot in two years.

"A healthy delta ecosystem and a reliable water supply are profoundly important to California's future," said Brown.

The current system only has one pump and could kill hundreds of thousands of fish a year, including the endangered delta smelt. A court order often stopped water deliveries for the sake of marine life, and farms found it tough to make a living.

Opponents like environmentalists have already given the plan a thumbs-down because it hasn't been scientifically vetted. It's unclear what effect a different diversion point and new water flow of 9,000 cubic feet per second through the tunnels will have on the fish.

"They have put plumbing before policy. They have put the canal, or the tunnel, before the science," said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove). "They intend to build it and then figure out how it can be used."

Governor Brown acknowledges some will dislike his plan, but he's forging ahead because he wants to end the decades-old water wars.

"I want to get this thing done the best I can," said Brown.

The governor's tunnels do not need legislative approval because they're already authorized through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Environmental reviews and permits though are still needed.

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