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Brown makes urgent plea for delta tunnels

Gov. Jerry Brown at a Capitol briefing last year on his revised state budget. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Gov. Jerry Brown delivered an impassioned defense of his ambitious plan to drill huge tunnels through the delta east of San Francisco to move more northern water south, saying California’s economic well-being depended on it.

Brown said during a state budget briefing that the huge public works project – easily, the largest in the nation’s history — “is an economic necessity that I’ve laid out, not because I want a legacy but because it appears absolutely imperative for the economic well-being of the people of California into the future.”

“The water that is needed for Santa Clara, half the water for the Silicon Valley flows through the delta, 80 percent of the water for Livermore, for the farms in the Central Valley, for the people of Southern California. That water is at risk as it flows through the delta, protected only by hundred-year-old earthen levees,” the governor added.

Efforts to move more water through or around the delta have been sought for decades, at least since the 1940s. In 1982, California voters rejected the Peripheral Canal, a 42-mile long canal around the edge, or periphery, of the delta that would have shipped more northern water to the south.

The administration’s plan calls for two tunnels 35 miles long and nearly four stories high through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, plus an array of environmental protections for the sprawling, fragile estuary, the largest on the West Coast. About $15 billion to $17 billion would be spent constructing the tunnel system, with the price tag covered by state and federal contractors who get the water. Some $5 billion to $8 billion would be spent on environmental protection projects, according to early estimates, a cost that would be divided between the state and federal governments.

The proposal has not received final approval. It is opposed by a number of environmental groups, fishing advocates and delta property owners who say their land and livelihoods are threatened, and court challenges have been launched.

Efforts to move more water through or around the delta have been sought for decades, at least since the 1940s. In 1982, California voters rejected the Peripheral Canal, a 42-mile long canal around the edge, or periphery, of the delta that would have shipped more northern water to the south.

“Since the time of my father (Gov. Pat Brown), people have said, ‘How do we deal with that?’ There was an idea of a peripheral canal, there now is the notion of tunnels. One way or another, we have to deal with handling what could be a catastrophic destruction in the delta,” Brown said.

The delta is the chokepoint of California’s water system. At least half the state’s drinking water comes through the delta, which is fed by rivers and melting Sierra snows. Both state and federal agencies pump water out of the delta to water districts in the Central Valley and Southern California. But the delta’s environment has deteriorated with the incursion of saltwater.

 


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