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SoCal Metropolitan Water District defends $11 billion delta tunnel plan




A group of public water agencies has asked the state to order farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to stop irrigating their crops amid the relentless drought.
A group of public water agencies has asked the state to order farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to stop irrigating their crops amid the relentless drought.
Photo by Daniel Parks via Flickr Creative Commons

The architects of the Delta tunnel plan has gone back and forth in recent weeks about whether to build one tunnel or two to bring water to the Southland. And Tuesday, Southern California's Metropolitan Water District voted to put up nearly $11 billion to go with a pair of tunnels.

Not everyone agrees with the idea. Water district representatives from Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Fernando all voted no. Jeffrey Kightlinger is General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District. He explains where the tunnel project currently stands. 

What led the MWD to decide on two tunnels

The original plan was for two tunnels. That was Jerry Brown's plan and proposal. It is expensive, and we have to finance a large part of it because Central Valley Agriculture wasn't part of it. We did take a hard look at scaling down and only building one [tunnel] at this time, but then my board of directors said, 'This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Let's build the entire project.' We're probably never going tp get another shot in our lifetimes again, so let's do it right.

L.A., San Fernando, Santa Monica and San Diego voted against the plan

They believe that money should be spent on local projects, recycling, etc., which would reduce our need for imported water. We have to do both... I understand that's going to raise rates, but that also means we have a more reliable water future. 

Central Valley can't afford to buy in

They do want it. The question is whether they can afford it. The SoCal economy is huge. We spend billions on infrastructure. The Central Valley doesn't have that kind of money. 

Where the $11 billion will come from

It's coming from you and me and all the rate payers here in SoCal. The nice thing is that we spread this across 20 million people. It's going to be between $2.50 and $4.50 a month [per affected household]. No one likes to raise rates, but we import two-thirds of our water in SoCal. We have to pay for this just like our parents and grandparents did to make life possible here.

When customers will see bills increase

A couple years from now. But it'll be about 30 cents per month, and it will build up. So $2 to $4 a month will take 15 years of layering in. So it will be gradual.

When the MWD will start building these tunnels

In about four or five years from now, and we expect to be finished somewhere around 2030.

*This interview has been edited for clarity.