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California’s Largest Water District Agrees To Spend Billions On Delta Tunnel Project

USFWS Pacific Southwest Region / Flickr

USFWS Pacific Southwest Region / Flickr

California’s largest water district has given key support to a $17 billion project long sought by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California agreed to take on about two-thirds of the cost of the Delta tunnels project, which involves construction of two 40-foot-wide, 35-mile-long pipes. These would carry water under the Delta from its northern end to connections with central and Southern California water districts. 

Supporters argue it represents the best option for the increasingly strained Delta and for Southern California cities thirsty for water.

“This project is better of the environment,” said Steve Blois of the Calleguas Municipal Water District in Ventura County. “It’s the cheapest source of new water that’s available to us currently. It provides us much greater reliability.”

All of those points are contested by opponents of the project. They argue pumping out fresh water before it can reach the Delta will increase salinity in a fragile ecosystem.

Water districts in agricultural areas balked at contributing to the project last fall, so the Metropolitan Water District also agreed to pick up the extra tab — another $5 billion — with the hope of selling them water later.

Los Angeles board member Lorraine Paskett questioned if that violates their duty.

“We do not go into Northern California,” Paskett said. “We are not supposed to support a project that benefits beneficiaries outside of this agency, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

Enough board members from smaller water districts overrode objections from Los Angeles and San Diego members to approve the full funding plan. They also rejected a more modest plan to build a single tunnel.

With funding in hand, project supporters can turn to their next challenges: obtaining permits and fighting expected lawsuits.

Board members for the water district heard two hours of public comments from dozens of people — opponents and supporters — before they even began their own discussion.

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