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Know the West

Latest: Delta tunnels plan challenged in court

Agencies weigh in on threatened fish — and get smacked with their first lawsuit.


California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta supplies water to 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland. Irrigators, water districts and environmental groups have fought for years over how much can be pumped from the Delta and how much must be left to protect dwindling salmon and smelt (“California’s tangled water politics,” HCN, 12/20/10). Under the controversial WaterFix plan, endorsed by Gov. Jerry Brown, D, the state would spend $15 billion to dig two tunnels to secure Delta water for Southern California.

In late June, two federal agencies declared that the project would harm populations of endangered Delta smelt, chinook salmon and steelhead — but probably wouldn’t drive them to extinction. Water districts must now decide if it will provide enough water to justify the price tag. Meanwhile, environmental and fishing groups filed the first of what promises to be many lawsuits challenging the plan, which they say will degrade fish habitat, reduce water quality and increase salinity and algae blooms.