Gov. Brown defends cuts to wetland restoration near tunnels

1 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

AP NewsBreak: Habitat fixes for California’s massive Delta tunnels scaled back dramatically.

OAKLAND, Calif. California Governor Jerry Brown said he will scale back plans for restoration in an ecologically sensitive delta to build two $15 billion water tunnels meant to guard against events like the record drought gripping the area.

FRESNO, Calif. – California officials have dramatically scaled back habitat restoration plans that are part of the state’s proposed twin-tunnel water project. Jerry Brown defended newly unveiled plans on Thursday that call for dramatically scaling back the amount of habitat restoration done while twin tunnels are built around California’s freshwater delta to deliver water to farms and millions of people throughout the state. California Department of Fish and Game Director Chuck Bonham told The Associated Press Wednesday that the project now calls for restoring 30,000 acres for wetland and wildlife habitat — down from 100,000 acres.

Brown said the new approach accelerates the pace of the critical wildlife habitat restoration that will be done and fixes the state’s aging water infrastructure. The restoration and tunnels are intended to slow decline of a watershed that supplies 25 million people and the most productive agricultural region in the U.S. The state is entering its fourth year of drought with mandatory water restrictions for residents, and many farmers are receiving little or no surface water for irrigation from government water projects.

Under development for eight years, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan calls for building two underground tunnels, 40 feet across and 30 miles long, to send water from the Sacramento River around the delta. But it has drawn strong opposition from delta farmers and environmentalists, who contend that the tunnels will allow saltwater from San Francisco Bay to degrade the delta’s water quality and damage habitat for endangered salmon and tiny delta smelt.

The tunnels would likely be financed in part with municipal bonds paid for by agencies such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people in a coastal arc beginning north of Los Angeles and extending to the Mexican border. “You cannot have successful habitat or restore fisheries while draining the delta of its water,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. The $24.8 billion plan “is now a naked ‘tunnels-only’ water grab for the unsustainable mega-farms.” Diverting water through the delta has been one of the most contentious issues California has faced this century, pitting residents in the north, where most of the water comes from, against those in the south, where most residents live. He said it is unclear who will be leading the effort decades from now and what impact climate change will have on California’s water picture or environmental regulations.

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