The Madeleine Brand Show for July 24, 2012

California debates $23.7 billion water tunnel system

California Levee System Vulnerable To Natural Disasters

David McNew/Getty Images

Water pump pipes are seen at the Little Connection of the San Joaquin River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, near Stockton, California

Tomorrow, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to announce plans to build a pair of enormous tunnels to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region, and flow into canals run by the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. Delta water would be accessible to 25 million Californians, from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego, and irrigate 3 million acres of farmland.

Already, Gov. Brown's $23.7 billion proposal is facing heavy criticism. Opponents say the tunnels will harm fisheries, increase costs for water users and devastate the area's agricultural-based economy by
destroying water quality.

KQED's environment reporter Lauren Sommer says that Gov. Brown is trying to secure reliable water supplies for California while ensuring the health of wildlife.

"This is a really fine line he is going to have to walk," Sommer says. She also says a big question is how much water the tunnel would provide.

According to Sommer, the proposal's major hurdle is funding. She says it would cost around $17 billion just to build and launch the tunnels, and does not include operational costs over next 30 to 40 years.

Also part of the plan, says Sommer, is wildlife rehabiltation over 65,000 acres and would cost $2 to $3 billion. California would be on the hook for those funds, and may seek federal help as well.

A similar project called the Provo Canal was rejected by voters 30 years ago.

Guest:

Lauren Sommer, KQED's environment reporter


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