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Federal environmental agencies approve of proposed Sacramento River tunnels




Louvers at the Skinner Fish Facility in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta divert most fish away from pumps that lift water into the California Aqueduct. Decades of fights among government and water agencies, environmentalists and farmers, in courtrooms and conference rooms have culminated in the Bay Delta Plan, which will soon be open to public debate.
Louvers at the Skinner Fish Facility in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta divert most fish away from pumps that lift water into the California Aqueduct. Decades of fights among government and water agencies, environmentalists and farmers, in courtrooms and conference rooms have culminated in the Bay Delta Plan, which will soon be open to public debate.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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The multi-billion dollar plan to re-engineer California's water delivery system cleared a major hurdle yesterday, passing a test by U.S Wildlife officials. 

California Waterfix, as the project is called, involves two massive tunnels built from the Sacramento River and extending south through the state.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service said yesterday that the project would not cause the extinction of fragile fish populations in the fresh-water estuary.

"It's a morale boost and it's kind of the start of getting things rolling on federal and state decisions that are going to be coming up in the next few months on this big tunnel project," Ellen Nickmeyer, AP report said to Take Two's A Martinez.

California Governor Jerry Brown has been working to construct these tunnels for decades, as part of an effort to modernize how Southern California receives water from Northern parts of the state.

Right now, most of the water comes from a Norther California Delta, using a system of pumps that are not just old, but also harmful to the local fish.

"They change the flow of the river, but they suck little native fish off course and they suck some of the fish right into the pump," Nickmeyer said.

"So it's been devastating for native species and the Delta since the 70's some of them had dwindled from millions to a few hundred or thousand."

Now that some federal environmental groups have given the project their approval, the tunnels have cleared a major step as the September deadline approaches. But Nickmeyer says that there are still concerns that opponents to the tunnels will continue to voice.

"The tunnels are going to have enough capacity to take almost the whole volume of the Sacramento River during a dry spell. They're worried that once the tunnels are built ... there's going to be quite a lot of incentive for the water agencies to take as much water as they can partly to get returns to pay-off their big investment in the tunnel."

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above.