U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has issued an executive order directing federal wildlife officials to release a preliminary environmental opinion on Governor Jerry Brown's proposed water tunnels in January.
Brown wants to build two tunnels that would pump Northern California's water to central and Southern California.
Erin Mellon with the California Natural Resources Agency says this does not speed up the federal permitting process.
"I think it provides a more specific timeline on the project, but not much faster or slower than anything we've talked about before," says Mellon.
A final environmental opinion wouldn't occur until April, when President-Elect Donald Trump is in office.
"No matter who the administration is...it's clear that we need to continue the progress that we've made," says Mellon.
Secretary Jewell also ordered federal wildlife officials to work with California on plans to boost endangered fish species, including the delta smelt.
Brown said in a statement that the Secretary's executive order tracks closely with the California Water Action Plan and "commits the federal government to a timely review of the California WaterFix project.” He says the project is needed to provide a reliable water supply.
Environmental groups say the giant tunnels would hurt endangered fish species.
“Secretary Jewell's Action Plan really does not change much for us in terms of the timeline. We understood that the final biological opinion would be out in the late spring," said Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, with Restore the Delta. She added that Governor Brown's statement "seems a bit desperate, as if he is trying to push the tunnels through as a completed project before President-elect Trump is in charge.”
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