California Presses On With Water Project

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Environmental and Cost Concerns Persist as Draft Analysis Lays Out $25 Billion Plan to Bypass and Restore Delta.

Environmentalists near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fear a water project will upend the ecosystem. Reuters

A contentious project to divert water supplied to Southern California past an ecologically sensitive river delta moved a step closer to fruition Monday, as state and federal officials unveiled a draft final environmental analysis.

Under the $25 billion plan, which is backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, two 30-mile-long tunnels would bypass the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Northern California. The area often serves as a choke point for water destined for more than 20 million people and farmland in semiarid parts of Southern California and the Central Valley because of pumping restrictions to protect endangered smelt and other fish.

In a nod to environmental concerns, the plan would also create a program to help restore the ecology of the delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast.

At stake is the reliability of one of the largest water-delivery systems in the U.S., whose customers are now vulnerable to shortfalls triggered by drought and the environmental bottlenecks in the delta. Farmers in the Central Valley’s Westlands Water District, for example, this year had federally controlled water shipments cut to 20% of their contracted allocation during a drought that is entering its third year. Urban water districts also have been put on notice to expect sharp cutbacks of state-provided water next year, barring an unusually wet winter.

But the so-called Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which has been seven years in the planning, still faces intense opposition, including from environmental groups and farmers in the affected area. No amount of restoration work will offset the disruption of constructing what would become one of the largest infrastructure projects in California history, said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a coalition of groups that oppose the project.

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