First, it was Southern California making a big financial commitment to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels plan that salmon conservationists and anglers are concerned about. Now it’s the Santa Clara Valley Water District offering up money to get the project going.
A Bay Area water agency agreed Tuesday to pump $650 million into Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels project, providing a meaningful boost for the controversial $16.7 billion plan.
The 4-3 vote by the Santa Clara Valley Water District brings the tunnels project, which would overhaul the troubled heart of California’s aging water delivery network, a step closer to being fully funded.
Just a few months ago the project, officially known as California WaterFix, was sputtering for a lack of funds. Brown’s administration was forced to consider a phased-in approach that called for building one tunnel first and constructing a second tunnel only if enough money became available. WaterFix is to be paid for by south-of-Delta local water agencies that get supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The original twin-tunnels concept was revived a month ago, when the giant Metropolitan Water District of Southern California agreed to spend $10.8 billion on the project. Metropolitan in effect is stepping in for San Joaquin Valley agricultural districts that have refused to support WaterFix because of its price tag. To recoup the costs, the big Los Angeles agency expects to sell some of the tunnels’ capacity to the farm groups in years to come.
Of course, while water districts are in clearly in favor of the tunnels, it’s not so much on the wish list for salmon advocates. Here’s John McManus, president of the Golden Gate Salmon Association:
“Today SCVW’s directors voted to saddle their ratepayers with a double-digit rate increase in order to subsidize water to almond growers in the western San Joaquin Valley. Some water managers would have you believe the tunnels are a fait accompli but it is far from that. GGSA and allies are already in court challenging this project because federal fish experts have found the twin tunnels will be a disaster for salmon. Getting permits for this project will fall to the next governor and hopefully he will appreciate the damage the tunnels would do to our salmon fishery, so we don’t have to wait for the courts to decide this in our favor.”