$24.7B water plan unveiled by Calif. officials

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The California Bay Delta (Photo credit: CalWater)

The California Bay Delta (Photo credit: CalWater)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California Water officials on Monday released a draft of a $24.7 billion plan to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, in part by building two 30-mile underground tunnels to ensure stable water delivery to millions of Californians.

The joint federal and state Bay Delta Conservation Plan, or BDCP, and environmental impact analysis comes after seven years of study, and includes plans for building the tunnels and completing significant habitat restoration work to improve the delivery of mountain snowmelt to Central Valley farms and cities throughout the state.

At the heart of the 50-year plan are the twin tunnels with a 9,000-cubic-feet-per-second capacity that would replace the delta’s current pumping system that endangers fish and other wildlife.

Currently, the State Water Project and Central Valley Project pump water from the delta to 25 million people and three million acres of farmland.

But that supply has been interrupted in recent years, as salmon and smelt numbers declined in delta rivers, and federal regulators limited the amount of water that could be pumped from the delta.

Water officials believe that replacing the pumps with the tunnels and restoring more than 100,000 acres of new habitat above ground will help the fish rebound and keep the water flowing to customers.

The plan also outlines how officials would conduct research and implement monitoring during and after construction of the tunnels to study the project’s effect on dozens of plant and animal species.

State water officials also say the ambitious project would generate billions of dollars in jobs, especially in construction, in the delta region.

The release kicks off 120 days of public comment on the plan and environmental analysis.

“By meeting the state’s dual goals … of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability, we will stabilize and secure against catastrophe the water deliveries that sustain our homes, jobs, and farms, and do so in a way that not only protects but enhances the environment,” said John Laird, California’s natural resources secretary.

But critics of the plan say it would actually harm fish and agriculture by siphoning off more water from the estuary.

Dozens of conservation groups including the Sierra Club have been steadfast in their opposition, saying the project would ship more water from the delta south and create more environmental problems.

Conservationists say modern developments in water conservation and recycling can be used to reduce demand from southern California, and would be far more environmentally friendly than the tunnel project.

“We need a better plan for restoring the delta environment and making sure Californians all over the state get the water they need,” Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, said in a statement.

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