California’s battle over water is about to heat up. The north has plenty and the south needs more. Governor Jerry Brown is scheduled Wednesday to unveil plans to build a $14 billion pair of tunnels to move water more easily from the north to the south.
The new proposal calls for using water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The problem is the delta has seen ecological decline as the state’s farms and cities have increasingly tapped it for trillions of gallons of water each year. Brown’s plan is to build two huge, side-by-side underground tunnels, each 33 feet in diameter. These tunnels would carry water 37 miles from the state’s largest river, the Sacramento, under the delta to giant federal and state pumps at Tracy.
Under the plan, two huge, side-by-side underground tunnels, each 33 feet in diameter, would carry fresh water 37 miles from the state’s largest river, the Sacramento, under the delta to giant federal and state pumps at Tracy. Construction would start in 2017, with the project completed by 2026.
Delta farmers today argue that they are being asked to give up their farms, their lifestyles and their livelihoods so that upstream Sacramento River water can be diverted around the delta to water the farms of competitors in the San Joaquin, especially those in the naturally dry Westlands Water District. The environmental community is similarly split. Many groups oppose the “peripheral tunnels” under any circumstance.
Supporters say the project is the long-overdue answer to pleas for a steady water supply to adequately supply farmers and municipalities south of the delta. They also claim the project’s location actually will help the region’s endangered fish species, especially the salmon and smelt.
The project also includes plans for more than 100,000 acres of floodplain and tidal marsh habitat restoration. Water users would pay for the tunnels and related infrastructure, while taxpayers would finance the restoration portion. A key funding mechanism is an $11 billion water bond that will go before voters in 2014.