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Massive Twin Tunnels Project Rescued by SoCal's Largest Water Agency

Conservation groups protested before the Metropolitan Water District vote in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Restore the Delta)
Conservation groups protested before the Metropolitan Water District vote in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Restore the Delta)
April 11, 2018

LOS ANGELES - The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has thrown its support behind the twin tunnels project, known as the "Water Fix," voting late Tuesday to spend almost $11 billion to build two tunnels underneath the delta to bring Sacramento River water to the Central Valley and Southern California.

Supporters, including Gov. Jerry Brown, have said it is an investment in the future that will make water supplies more reliable and guard against drought. However, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the group Restore the Delta, said she thinks the project would be a disaster for water quality and for salmon in the delta.

"We've been taking out 50 percent of the water when science tells us we should be taking out 25 percent," she said, "and so, how do you make up for that water? You build the recycling projects in Southern California. You do mass conservation and recycling, and put in the water-reuse infrastructure and programs, and really get efficient with water use."

The district also rejected a more cautious alternative plan of just over $5 billion for a single tunnel. Many spoke at the hearing against both water projects, saying Southern California ratepayers shouldn't be charged more to pay for a multi-billion-dollar project that primarily benefits water districts in the Central Valley that serve large-scale agriculture - districts that have declined to pitch in to pay for the tunnels.

The deal did not put a cap on what MWD will pay, so the costs also could go significantly higher.

Adam Scow, California director for the nonprofit group Food and Water Watch, said the project doesn't bring any new water down south; it just shifts who has the power to control it.

"Whether it's the one tunnel or the two-tunnel, it's a colossal waste of money for Southern California," he said. "We're talking about billions of dollars to essentially deliver the same water that Southern California is already getting from the delta. It's simply a money grab and a power grab by the Metropolitan Water District."

Conservation groups are vowing to fight this decision in the courts. The MWD now will try to convince other water districts to pitch in, and may look to private investors.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA