| SAN FRANCISCO, July 25
SAN FRANCISCO, July 25 California Governor Jerry
Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday
unveiled a multibillion-dollar plan for two giant tunnels that
would dramatically reconfigure the state's water delivery
The nearly $24 billion project aims to help restore the
habitat of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and improve
the reliability of water supplies to the arid central and
southern parts of the state.
The state already has two massive aqueducts that move water
from the north to the south, but the way in which the water is
transferred has severely damaged fish populations and degraded
their habitat in the delta.
The planned project is similar to one Brown approved three
decades ago when he was first governor. Voters rejected that
project amid vociferous opposition from northern California
residents. A similar political battle will be fought this time
"It's a long time in coming," the 74-year-old Democrat said,
asserting that the project balances regional, environmental and
agricultural concerns that have long blocked efforts to expand
the state's water infrastructure.
The twin 35-mile tunnels would divert water from the
Sacramento River just south of the state capital of Sacramento
to the aqueduct system. The tunnels would bypass the delta
rather than drawing water directly from it, reducing the number
of fish killed by pumps and restoring natural water flows.
The tunnels would reduce the risk of environmental lawsuits
that could interrupt water supplies, a critical concern for
California's multibillion-dollar farming industry.
An estimated 25 million Californians who would rely on water
from the tunnels would repay the bonds issued to finance them.
The cost of the tunnels is pegged at $14 billion. The
additional $10 billion in costs includes debt service payments
and 40 years of expenses for its operation, said Richard
Stapler, a spokesman for the state resources agency.
Additional money for habitat restoration in the delta could
come from an $11 billion water bond that lawmakers recently
deferred until 2014, Stapler said.
Critics called the tunnels an expensive boondoggle and said
there are cheaper conservation measures for the delta.
Kate Poole, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources
Defense Council, said the plan for the tunnels is "putting
plumbing before sensible policy."
"Twenty-first century technology opens up new sources of
water, including water conservation and efficiency, recycling
and other tools to allow us to reduce our reliance on the delta,
allow fish to recover, farmers to farm and people to turn on the
tap and rely on good quality water," Poole said.