California’s Largest Water District Agrees To Spend Billions On Delta Tunnel Project

Apr 11, 2018

Credit USFWS Pacific Southwest Region / Flickr

California’s largest water district has given key support to a 17-billion-dollar water project, long sought by Governor Jerry Brown. The vote Tuesday would fund twin tunnels under the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta, which will send water to Central and Southern California.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California agreed to take on about two-thirds of the cost of the giant project. It calls for two forty-foot-wide, 35-mile-long pipes to extend under the Delta, carrying water from the northern end that can be pumped south and east.

Steve Blois of the Calleguas Municipal Water District in Ventura County argued the project is the best option both for the increasingly strained Delta and for Southern California cities thirsty for water.

“This project is better of the environment. It’s the cheapest source of new water that’s available to us currently. It provides us much greater reliability, which is what Calleguas absolutely needs,” he said.

All of those points are contested by opponents of the project. They argue pumping out fresh water before it can reach the Delta will increase salinity in a fragile ecosystem. Many water districts in agricultural areas balked at contributing to the project, so the SoCal district is picking up their tab—an extra 5 billion dollars—with the hope of selling them water later. Los Angeles Boardmember Lorraine Paskett questioned if that violates their duty.

“We do not go into Northern California,” she said. “We are not supposed to support a project that benefits beneficiaries outside of this agency, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

Enough board members from smaller water districts overrode objections from Los Angeles and San Diego members to approve the full funding plan. They also rejected a more modest plan to build a single tunnel. With funding in hand, project supporters can turn to their next challenges—obtaining permits and fighting expected lawsuits.

This story was originally published by Capital Public Radio.