May 2016, Vol. 71 No. 5


California’s $15.7 Billion San Joaquin River Delta Tunnel Plan Enters Pivotal Year

As originally reported by The Associated Press, California is proposing its most ambitious water project in a half-century. At $15.7 billion, the project proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown would run two giant tunnels, each four stories high, for 35 miles under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in Northern California, sending water to cities and farms to the south. In size and cost, the feat would rival or dwarf the tunnel under the English Channel and Boston’s Big Dig.

The project is facing obstacles to environmental approval in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, as uncertainty mounts over financing,, as well as dividing farmers and political leaders into two distinct positions regarding the project.

The delta stretches 75 miles inland from San Francisco Bay at the confluence of big rivers that begin in Northern California’s mountains; it’s the heart of the state’s water system, feeding two-thirds of California’s residents, as well as 3 million acres of farmland and wildlife.

In the 1960s, California and the federal government re-engineered the delta to pump water from the southern end to farms and communities as far away as San Diego, CA. The pumps changed the delta’s course and caused many native animal, fish and plant species to drop; at least 35 native species are now listed under federal and state endangered-species acts.

Over the past two years, authorities cut the delta’s water deliveries in an attempt to save water for endangered fish. Not only did the plan anger many farmers and community members, but it also failed to keep the water cool and plentiful for the fish and resulted in record declines.

Brown’s plan would provide additional water intakes and tunnels north of the delta, and officials claim the project would nearly halve the running time of the southern delta’s destructive pumps.

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