Daunting obstacles remain for Gov. Brown’s ‘WaterFix’

Delta TunnelsJust six weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown’s hopes for a huge, difficult legacy project to solidify California’s statewide water distribution system – one funded by water districts, not directly by taxpayers – appeared in bad shape.

Years of lobbying for what the Brown administration dubbed the WaterFix project had produced more indifference and outright opposition than support. The $16.7 billion plan would build two 35-mile-long, 40-foot-high tunnels to take water south from the Sacramento River to the State Water Project pumps in the town of Tracy. The governor argued that this would sharply reduce the intermittent heavy pumping that played havoc with endangered species in the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and would firm up supplies both for Central Valley farmers and the 20 million-plus residents of Southern California.

But in September, the board of the Westlands Water District – which serves 600,000 acres of farmland in King and Fresno counties and is the largest U.S. agricultural district – voted 7-1 against providing about $3 billion for the project. Westlands officials trashed claims made for WaterFix, questioning whether it would actually stabilize the Delta ecosystem and predicting cost overruns.

In November, the Trump administration announced that the federal government would not provide any financial assistance to get the project built. While the Interior Department statement was not unexpected, it contributed to the sense the WaterFix proposal was foundering. By February, Brown administration officials had put the word out they would accept building only one tunnel under the delta and adding a second later.

MWD backed scaled-back project, then changed mind

The death of the original plan appeared confirmed on April 2 when officials with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – the giant, politically powerful water wholesaler serving 19 million people – issued a memo expressing support for the one-tunnel option. The rationale: a lack of a consensus for the two-tunnel plan among the water districts south of Sacramento that would need to pay for the project.

But after intense lobbying by the Brown administration, on April 10, the MWD board voted by a 3-to-2 margin to endorse the two-tunnels project and to agree to pay for about two-thirds of the tab – about $10.8 billion. The weighted vote, based on the size of individual agencies, came over the objections of the MWD board’s single largest member, the San Diego County Water Authority.

Momentum continued to build last Wednesday when the board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District – the biggest water agency in Silicon Valley – voted 4-3 to commit its 2 million ratepayers to pay up to $650 million for the project, or nearly 4 percent of the total tab. Santa Clara officials had previously narrowly opposed providing funding.

On Thursday, Brown hailed the decision in a speech to a conference of the Association of California Water Agencies in Sacramento. But the governor also warned that the project still had big obstacles that went beyond getting more water districts to agree to share construction costs. He noted that state and federal regulators still had yet to issue required permits.

On this front, WaterFix may face more skepticism in Brown’s backyard than in Washington. As CalWatchdog reported last year, the Trump administration gave a key senior Interior Department post to Colorado lawyer David Bernhardt, a veteran of California water wars and a critic of the federal government’s traditionally high-profile role in land-use decisions in Western states.

Meanwhile, the California Water Resources Control Board has sided with environmentalists in a long list of previous decisions. In filings with the state board, Restore the Delta and several other environmental groups have challenged the governor’s project on its central claim: that it improves the health of the Delta ecosystem.

Even if the state and federal permits are granted, the tunnels plan still faces hurdles. The Bay Area News Group reportedlast week that more than two dozen state and federal lawsuits had been filed against the project.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Comments

  1. Terry Roberts says

    My main concern is that I do not trust Gov Brown.

  2. If you are worried about a damn fish catch some and breed them. Then every couple of years you can dump a thousand into the delta. In the mean time you can open the pumps and pump all the water you wnt.

    • Christian says

      $16 Billion to fix the problem?

      …..wait, what was the problem again? A smelt?

      Alternatively, it would be nice if they were spending that kind of money to build and maintain freeways and roads so I could get to work in under an hour.

  3. The CAPTIVE says

    bROWN is hoping to make this part of his legacy before he leaves office. HASTE MAKE WASTE jerry and you have WASTED OUR taxes and wasted them and used them up just about and it is all for the benefit of little jerry brown –mr selfish not at good governor at all -In bed with the lib-left and against the CONSTITUTION —iT JUST SEEMS TO GET worse and worse-cause it is -ranks with the worst pres. ever BHO!

  4. vistacharlie says

    we all know that this is like the bullet train. perceived as an endless source of income by corrupt officials who will siphon off the money. Anybody remember the federal job stimulus bill that provided 60 million for salt water marsh mouse environmental protection for a MOUSE in nancy pelosis district.

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