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Know the West

Latest: California moves ahead on Bay Delta tunnels plan

Governor Jerry Brown wants to secure water for the drought, but will it leave enough for wildlife?


Two-thirds of California’s water comes from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta, heart of a tangled system that routes water to 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland. Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing a plan to dig two tunnels underneath it to secure water for Southern California during drought — a controversial $15 billion project that farmers, fisheries and wildlife advocates fear will siphon off too much water. The question remains: What if there’s just not enough water to go around? (“California’s tangled water politics,” HCN, 12/20/10).

In July, Brown hired former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt — known for making water deals — to help secure federal approval for the project. The same week, a California water supplier bought five Delta islands for potential tunnel construction. And though state agencies working on the plan outlined ways to save endangered Delta smelt by restoring wetlands and increasing water outflows, environmentalists say it’s too little, too late.