Politics

Feds to review if funds mishandled for California tunnels

In this file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a panel discussion at the 18th annual Milken Institute Global Conference on April 29, 2015 in Beverly Hills. Federal inspectors say they will look into accusations that California took $60 million meant for fish habitat to spend on preliminary work for Brown's project to bring water to Southern California.
In this file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a panel discussion at the 18th annual Milken Institute Global Conference on April 29, 2015 in Beverly Hills. Federal inspectors say they will look into accusations that California took $60 million meant for fish habitat to spend on preliminary work for Brown's project to bring water to Southern California.
David McNew/Getty Images

The federal government will investigate allegations that the state and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation improperly used federal funds for a $15.7 billion tunnel project that would bring water from Northern to Southern California.

The inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department will look into accusations that California took $60 million meant for fish habitat to spend on preliminary work for Gov. Jerry Brown's project and otherwise mishandled federal funds.

Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility requested the review on behalf of an unidentified federal employee who raised the allegations.

Press officers for the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Monday that their agencies would cooperate with the inspector general's review. They declined to comment on the allegations.

Brown's administration wants to build 30 miles of 40-foot-wide tunnels to carry water from the Sacramento River south to Central and Southern California.

Water districts that would receive the water would pay for the giant tunnels. But key water districts already have paid at least $250 million total on preliminary work for the project and have recently balked at spending more until and unless the project wins full state and federal approval.

Brown's administration says the tunnels will ensure a more reliable water supply in the drought-stricken state. Opponents fear the tunnels will take too much water out the Sacramento River's delta with the San Joaquin River.

Opponents and supporters disagree whether the project will further harm dozens of native fish and wildlife in the delta that are protected by endangered-species laws.

The review of the spending would begin this month, Mary Kendall, deputy inspector general for the Interior Department, said Friday.

Six California members of Congress wrote the Bureau of Reclamation in February asking for answers about use of federal funds for the tunnels project. The bureau had not yet responded to the congressional members' questions but would, spokesman Daniel DuBray said.

If authorities were using money meant for imperiled wildlife on the tunnels project, "that would be a real breach of faith with Congress, and with anyone's idea of good stewardship," said U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area.