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California governor restarts giant water tunnel project

Posted at 7:20 AM, Jan 16, 2020

California’s governor has restarted a project to build a giant, underground tunnel that would pump billions of gallons of water from the San Joaquin Delta to the southern part of the state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Wednesday issued a Notice of Preparation for the project, which is the first step in the state’s lengthy environmental review process.

Last year, Newsom halted a similar project that would have built two tunnels for the same purpose. The new project will have only one tunnel, and it will carry less water. State officials don’t know how much it will cost.

“This project would help safeguard a vital source of affordable water for millions of Californians,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources.

The tunnel would be a major addition to the State Water Project, the complex system of reservoirs, aqueducts and pumping plants that deliver water to more than 27 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland. The water comes from rain and snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

State officials say they need the tunnel because intake for the current system is only 3 feet (0.91 meters) above the average sea level, making it vulnerable to climate change.

The San Joaquin Delta is home to nearly 750 species of plants and wildlife. It’s also critical part of the breeding network of wild salmon. The Sierra Club California has opposed diverting water from the Delta because the organization is concerned about how it would impact fish and wildlife.

“We anticipated that there might be an effort to employ a list of efficiency, conservation, and other measures to reduce dependence on a tunnel before moving forward on such a massive and environmentally harmful project,” Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips said. “Now we’ll have to focus a lot of time and energy on battling the tunnel again.”

Other groups praised the project because they said it would modernize the state’s aging water distribution infrastructure.

“This plan will help guarantee the reliable source of water we need to support additional housing necessary to meet the needs of California’s population,” said Dan Dunmoyer, president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association.