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California Says No Decision On Trimming Delta Tunnels Plan

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo, File

In this July 25, 2012, file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown waits to announce plans to build a giant twin tunnel system to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farmland and cities, in Sacramento.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo, File

Updated 2:52 p.m.

California water officials say the state has not yet made any final decision on scaling back the size of a troubled water project.

State water officials filed papers Friday saying they were considering cutting immediate plans for a $16 billion project to carry Northern California southward from two tunnels to one, with the second tunnel postponed indefinitely. They asked state builders vying to build the project to submit proposals on the pared-down one-tunnel project.

California natural resources spokeswoman Lisa Lien-Mager says no decision has been made on changing the project. “The project has not changed, and the state is considering construction later this year of elements that are fully funded,” Lien-Mager told Capital Public Radio in an email.

Another state water agency whose approval is needed for the project, the state Water Resources Control Board, says It is watching the state's negotiations with water contractors for a possible scaled-down project.

Board spokesman Tim Moran says the board will consider whether any cuts in the project size require changes to the state approval process.

The tunnels would be the state's largest water project in decades, redoing the state's north-south water deliveries.

Jeffrey Mount is with the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-partisan research group. He says one tunnel means a loss of flexibility.

“You don’t have the advantage of being able to take a big gulp,” Mount told Capital Public Radio. “That’s a real tradeoff. That’s arguably one of the big negatives. The positives are that it makes the project cost a lot less."

Mount says the cost would be determined by how big the tunnel is.

Ezra David Romero contributed to this report. 

By ELLEN KNICKMEYER, Associated Press

(AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is scaling back his troubled plans to redo California's water system, releasing a new proposal that would build only one tunnel to ship water from Northern California instead of two, and put Southern and central California water agencies directly in charge of designing and building it.

The state posted the revised plan on a state website for contract proposals late Friday.

Brown had been pushing to launch construction of two giant $16 billion water tunnels to supply farms and cities to the south, but the project has failed to gain enough support from water agencies that would pay for it.

Environmental groups also have opposed the project, fearing Southern California water agencies would use the tunnels to drain too much water from California's north.

The revised state proposal talks of building the tunnels in stages, with one of the four-story-high tunnels built now, and another at some indefinite date. Water contractors have previously talked of the possibility of permanently paring the project from two tunnels to one, in hopes of winning support for a smaller project.

The state did not immediately release a revised cost for the scaled-down proposal.

Osha Meserve, an attorney working for Northern California farmers opposing the project, said Tuesday the revised proposal makes "more clear the project they want to do is a failure. Now they're trying to morph into something else."

Asked for comment Tuesday, state water officials said they were preparing a response.

Bob Muir, a spokesman for Southern California's giant Metropolitan Water District, the project's main backer along with the Brown administration, referred questions to the state and to an association of state water contractors.

The document posted Friday was an addendum to the RQF that was released in December and is part of a routine contracting process. It does not constitute a new plan or a change in direction by the Governor. As the addendum clearly states, “DWR is in the process of evaluating different ways of implementing the CWF including possible construction in stages.” Bidders are requested to address how their submissions could be affected by this possibility. DWR was clear that no decision has been made to change the project.

The state continues to advance the same project that was analyzed in the environmental review and described in the permit application submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board. The project has not changed, and the state is considering construction later this year of elements that are fully funded. 

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