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Why MWD thinks California needs the 2-tunnel water plan




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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It appears Gov. Jerry Brown's Delta Tunnel plan could be back on track with both underground waterways.

Just last week the governor's office announced it had scaled back the project, officially known as the California WaterFix, to one tunnel, instead of two due to lack of funding. 

Southern California's Metropolitan Water District  is now thinking about kicking in an extra $6 billion dollars, and taking a majority stake in the project, just to make it all happen.

It's still early days, but some water watchers are crying, 'Chinatown!' 

MWD general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger spoke to Take Two's A Martinez about the plan.

How did this new MWD proposal come about?

Kightlinger said when some MWD board members came to him, suggesting the water district provide the funds for the project to done with two tunnels, as originally planned he was surprised but happy. He said this project reminded him of MWD's forward thinking when the Colorado River Aqueduct was built.  

"Metropolitan [Water District] built the Aqueduct in the 1930's twice the size of our water right on the Colorado river, thinking it's better to have that capacity for the future than not. And so they built something larger than they really had the water supply for and it all worked out."

Why is it so essential to Southern California that this happen? 

This project is crucial, according to Kightlinger.  The infrastructure delivering water from Northern to Southern California is 50-60 years old, and water for the northern part of the state is a necessity in SoCal.

"Southern California gets 30% of its water from Northern California. It's basically the background of our drinking supply. We're making tremendous strides on conservation, reclamation, groundwater clean up, but at the end of the day, you just don't replace 30% of your supply over night."

Some are making reference to William Mulholland and calling it a "water grab" - what's your response?  

California has a lot of negative legacies related to water development but this is something that needs to happen and needs to be done right, Kightlinger said.

"At the end of the day we have 40 million people in California. We have to share our resources. Most of the water's in the north; the people are in the south. Southern California finances most of the UC system; we pay for a lot of this. This is all about sharing resources and making it work. We have to do it responsibly, we have to do it ethically, we have to do it in an environmentally sound manner, but we need to work together to make this work."

What's the cost for SoCal residents?

The cost to consumers shouldn't go up with the second tunnel added back in, Kightlinger said. The project should still add an average $2 to an average household's monthly bill.

As for the timeline, Kightlinger said, "probably April." First MWD has to work to put things together, then write it all up in order to have the debate and conversation mid-April.