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Lawmakers Push for Transparency on Feasibility of Delta Tunnels

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The proposed Water Fix project would tunnel water south from the Delta. (Department of Water Resources)

State lawmakers opposed to Gov. Jerry Brown's Delta tunnel plan are stepping up calls for greater transparency into the project's finances, as the proposed water delivery system suffered a series of setbacks this fall.

At a Thursday town hall in the Delta town of Walnut Grove, lawmakers representing the region called on the Brown administration to drop the tunnel plan in the absence of greater cost certainty.

“It just seems like you’ve moved this project ahead, not knowing if it’s affordable," Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, said to state water officials. "What happens if it’s not?”

The proposed $17 billion project -- dubbed the Water Fix -- would send water from the Sacramento River south through two giant underground tunnels.

The Brown administration has pushed the tunnels as a way to make the state's water supply more reliable. Central Valley farms and households from the Bay Area to Southern California rely on water from the Delta. The current pumps that draw water from the Delta have threatened local fish, which has forced regulators to slow down water deliveries.


Opponents, including many in the Delta region, say the tunnels could harm local water quality and wildlife.

Local water agencies will be asked to fund the project, but two districts have recently rejected the twin tunnel idea.

In September, the powerful Westlands Water District, which provides water to major Central Valley farms, voted against participating in the project. The Santa Clara Valley Water District followed with a decision to support only a one-tunnel approach.

Both districts expressed concerns over the cost of the massive tunnels.

A state audit in October found that the state Department of Water Resources did not complete "either an economic or a financial analysis to demonstrate the financial viability" of the project.

At the meeting on Thursday, state water officials said they can't put together an analysis without knowing which districts are pitching in.

"That's the critical piece of the puzzle that we need to complete the two analyses, financial and economic," said Cindy Messer, chief deputy director of the State Department of Water Resources.

Pressed by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, for a timeline on the analyses' publication, Messer said the department could commit to releasing details on the tunnels' financial viability by next summer.

Dodd and Frazier's offices said both lawmakers are looking into proposing legislation next year that would require the state to publicly release details of major changes and cost overruns in projects like the tunnels.

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