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After resistance from local water districts to Jerry Brown’s two-tunnel Delta project, plan could be pared down to just one

The state water board held its first hearing Thursday since Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to move more water efficiently from Northern California to the south was pared down.
After losing financial support from some Central Valley farmers and backers in Silicon Valley last fall, the state Department of Water Resources announced Wednesday it would build one concrete tunnel under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta first and construct the second tunnel only if more money becomes available.
The tunnels would be 35 miles long and 40 feet high, stretching from new intakes 15 miles north of Sacramento, skirting the environmentally sensitive delta where water is supplied by court order to ensure the survival of native salmon and the Delta smelt.
The 2010 two-tunnel plan called the California WaterFix would be paid for by water districts according to how much water they take from the improved State Water Project. A single-tunnel waterway would be similar to the Peripheral Canal defeated by voters in 1982.
During hearings last fall, three Los Angeles city representatives to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted against the project, saying it was too big and would place too great a burden on ratepayers. Metropolitan’s board voted “yes,” approving a $4.3 billion share.
Under either plan, MWD rates would have to increase, which would amount to an increase of $2 to $3 a month in residential water bills, MWD said last fall. The full project would take 17 to 20 years to build.
But after the Westlands Water District in Fresno dropped out, followed by Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose, the project was in jeopardy, prompting Brown  to pivot to a phased project to keep it alive.
The single-tunnel stage would cost about $10.7 billion, $5.6 billion less than the $16.3 billion cost for the entire project. The state, MWD and other water districts in Southern California may have reluctantly agreed to the staged approach after it became clear the money wasn’t there.
“This is something we expected,” Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of MWD, a provider of water to 19 million Southern Californians and the biggest supporter of WaterFix, said during an interview Thursday. “But I still think for the greater good, a two-tunnel project would be better.”
A singular tunnel reduces the amount of water by one-third, from 9,000 cubic feet per second — equal to 4 million gallons per minute — to 6,000 cfs. However, since the single tunnel does not include the Central Valley Project, a federal aqueduct used exclusively for California farmers, urban districts would gain more shares.
Kightlinger estimated MWD’s portion would rise from 30 percent to about 50 percent. But with fewer water agencies and cities paying, MWD may have to pony up more money.
“There may be some shift in the numbers,” said Kightlinger, though he would not say how much more MWD would pay. “If there is an increase, it would be because we’d be getting greater benefits.”
While the state may be divided over the project, the large water districts from Southern California say the nearly 60-year-old system of levees and canals that sends water 700 miles into drought-stricken Southern California needs an overhaul.
“This is the path forward. It is an investment in the future for the state,” said Jennifer Pierre, general manager of a trade group representing 27 state water contractors. “We don’t want to wait. We are ready to go.”
The Department of Water Resources will produce a supplemental environmental review by June, and Kitghtlinger hopes permits for the first phase will be issued by December, when construction can start.
Representatives of Restore The Delta, an environmental group defending the estuary’s wildlife and the water source for residents, called the hearing a sham, saying the public wasn’t able to comment on the plan because the details are uncertain and the new environmental analysis is incomplete.
“They are trying to force a project to work that cannot,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the group and opponent of the tunnel plan. “They can’t get the science and the money in line with reality.”
She said the tunnel plan does not address California’s warmer winters and dwindling snowmelt, both a result of climate change.
“Fifty-two percent of the time you can’t operate the tunnel, because it is too dry,” she said.
Source: Oc Register

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