Newsom officials formally end Brown 2-tunnel plan for Delta

May 2, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration announced Thursday it will begin a new permitting process for a single tunnel underneath the state’s main water hub, formally ending former Gov. Jerry Brown’s decades long plan for two tunnels to improve supply reliability.

Newsom, who has long signaled a preference for a smaller structure to transport water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to agricultural and urban users in the South, issued an executive order earlier this week portraying the tunnel as one aspect of a “portfolio” approach that also focuses on local supplies and planning for more-frequent droughts and floods expected with climate change.

The tunnel project, which Brown had championed decades ago in the form of a canal in his first two terms as governor, was intended to reduce reliance on fish-killing pumps in the south Delta that can trigger pumping restrictions to comply with endangered species laws. It was also aimed at reducing the risk from earthquakes, which can collapse the Delta’s levees, sending saltwater into the system.

The Department of Water Resources is withdrawing the previous plan’s California Environmental Quality Act document and its pending request before the State Water Resources Control Board for a water quality permit and will ask federal agencies to withdraw their Endangered Species Act permits for the project, all issued in 2017.

“A smaller project, coordinated with a wide variety of actions to strengthen existing levee protections, protect Delta water quality, recharge depleted groundwater reserves, and strengthen local water supplies across the state, will build California’s water supply resilience,” Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said in a statement.

Longtime opponents of the project cheered, but proponents of the two-tunnel approach also responded positively.

“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,” Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said in a statement. “Governor Newsom and Natural Resources Secretary Crowfoot recognize that the status quo in the Delta is simply not an option. New conveyance is essential.”

A lawmaker representing the Delta region said she was glad Newsom had retrenched on the “misguided” twin-tunnel plan.

“Governor Newsom has lived up to his promise to take a fresh look at this challenging issue,” Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) said in a statement. “I welcome the Governor’s commitment to working with Delta communities — a fresh look must include an examination of all viable alternatives.”

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