California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird says the changes prove water managers have listened to Delta-area landowners.
Under the changes, the footprint of the project would shrink by 50-percent and shift construction away from private lands to public.
“We are working to meet objections and concerns in the Delta," says Laird. "It’s important to remember that the construction impacts don’t involve the entire Delta, they don’t last forever, and they can be mitigated.”
The department wants to shorten the main tunnels by five miles, decrease the height of the pumping plants by half, and only affect 81 structures with the project rather than 151.
A new forebay would shrink from 750 acres to 40 and move away from two Delta communities.
“I’m not denying they’re improvements," says Melinda Terry with the North Delta Water Agency. "But they don’t address the 48 significant adverse unavoidable impacts. Unavoidable means ‘sorry Charlie’ we’re going to damage your area, your home, your livelihood, but we’re not going to repair or remediate it.”
Some environmental groups have harsher words about the changes.
“It’s putting lipstick on a pig,” says Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California. Under the proposal, dredged materials called “muck” would move to Staten Island, which is protected by conservation easements.
“They’re simply moving it to an even more sensitive area. I don’t think the changes are going to resolve our concerns,” says Phillips.
Sacramento City Manager John Shirey also responded to the changes in the plan with some concerns.
"While we recognize that California has a water supply problem and sensitive habitat in the Delta must be protected, California should not implement a plan that helps two-thirds of the state at the expense of the other one-third," says Shirey.
He called the changes "an important first step" but that unanswered questions remain.
Several state water contractors also called the changes a step in the right direction. The project’s environmental documents will be released in October.