Now It's Official: Newsom Administration Spikes Twin Delta Tunnels

A sign protesting Gov. Jerry Brown's Delta Tunnels project in 2013.  (Craig Miller/KQED)

Fulfilling a pledge that Gov. Gavin Newsom made during his first State of the State address in February, California water officials have spiked former Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to build twin Delta Tunnels in favor of a single-tunnel plan. The huge underground double-tunnel project was intended to divert water from the Sacramento River for export to the Bay Area, Central and Southern California.

In a move that put an official bureaucratic stamp on the twin tunnels' demise, the Department of Water Resources announced today that it's withdrawing its permit application for the project filed with the State Water Resources Control Board and other agencies.

It’s not a surprise that officials are making moves to scrap the project; from the start Newsom has favored a more diversified water strategy. But DWR says scrapping the old plan could delay the project by as much as three years while officials file new environmental reviews and reapply for permits, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Gov. Brown intended the tunnels to be part of the state’s primary water system, serving about 25 million Californians from the Bay Area to San Diego. Built more than 50 years ago, the existing network of reservoirs, canals and aqueducts stretches hundreds of miles.

The tunnels were designed to fix a problem that state planners ran into a century ago: Most of the rain and snow falls in Northern California, but most of the state's population, and many farms, are in Central and Southern California.

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It's unclear how big the proposed single tunnel would be or how much water it's intended to deliver.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a strong supporter of the twin tunnels and a supplier for millions of people in Southern California, said it would roll with the change of plan.

“We are pleased that Gov. Newsom’s Administration has reaffirmed a strong commitment to modernize the state’s water delivery infrastructure with a single-tunnel project in the Delta,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the district.

“We will work with the administration to expeditiously advance a project that is long overdue to both meet the water reliability needs of the state and minimize impacts to the communities and ecology of the Delta.”

Environmental groups, including Restore the Delta and the Natural Resources Defense Council, cheered the decision, which they characterized as a victory.

"Over the last decade, Delta communities, fishermen, and conservation groups have risen up to take a stand against the WaterFix project to protect the health of the Bay-Delta estuary," said Doug Obegi of the NRDC in a statement. "We now look forward to working with the Newsom Administration on sustainable water solutions that will protect the economy and the environment."

Napa Democratic State Senator Bill Dodd also applauded Newsom’s decision to switch directions on the project. He called the twin tunnels plan "fatally flawed."

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"I look forward to partnering with the governor on measures that will benefit the Delta and the entire state, such as strengthening levees, restoring ecosystem habitat, improving water quality and efficiency, and increasing recharge and storage," Dodd said in a statement.

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