Water Authority Conditionally Backs $17 Billion Delta Tunnels Plan

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A rendering of the two tunnels under construction. Courtesy California WaterFix

The San Diego County Water Authority’s board of directors gave conditional support Thursday to the California WaterFix, the state’s $17 billion plan to upgrade key water infrastructure.

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San Diego joins the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles and Santa Clara County Water District in Silicon Valley in backing one Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature long-term projects.

The massive project would divert water from the Sacramento River as it enters the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and carry it to existing federal and state pumping stations in the southern part of the delta through one or two 35-mile tunnels.

The San Diego authority made its backing contingent on a financing plan that treats San Diego County ratepayers fairly through a “proper allocation of project costs” by the Metropolitan Water District, the sole source of Bay-Delta water for the San Diego region.

“Critical funding questions still must be answered, and today’s vote helps us work with project proponents to address them equitably,” said Mark Muir, chair of the water authority’s board. “Using our updated policy guidelines, we’ll continue working to protect the interests of local water ratepayers as details emerge.”

The Bay-Delta is a 1,000-square-mile network of islands and waterways at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers east of San Francisco Bay. It is a key water source for the state and an important ecosystem for fish and wildlife. But supplies have become increasingly unreliable due to deteriorating ecological conditions.

The tunnels would bypass the waterways — many reliant on deteriorating levees — to ensure a steady water supply to Southern California.

From 2013 to 2017, about 13 percent of the water authority’s supplies came through the Bay-Delta via the State Water Project, which is operated by the state Department of Water Resources.

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