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Tunnels: Will They Ever Be Built?

Within minutes of the announcement, however, there were already threats of lawsuits and ballot initiatives to stop it.

Mar 19, 2013

A lot of people, including a lot of farming interests in the SJ Valley, have put a lot of time and effort into the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), an effort to restore the ecological balance in the Bay-Delta and provide enough water for farms in the Central Valley and residents of Southern California. There has been imput from all sides for years and hundreds of public meetings, from farmers, environmentalists, politicians and anyone else interested in the subject. And now, finally, the plan is being unveiled. Within minutes of the announcement, however, there were already threats of lawsuits and ballot initiatives to stop it. The lawsuits could tie things up for years and a ballot initiative could put it on the ballot in 2016 where the tunnels could be stopped by voters as they did with the peripheral canal in 1982.

The Mercury News pointed out some of the hurdles the BDCP will face in the short and long-term future: "Environmental groups and fishing groups who oppose the plan are almost certain to file a lawsuit when the project's environmental impact report comes out this summer. Such lawsuits can drag on for years. The project needs state lawmakers to place a water bond on the November 2014 ballot to help generate funding. The $11 billion water bond the Legislature approved in 2009 -- painstakingly cobbled together after long negotiations between Republicans and Democrats -- was pulled from the state ballot in 2010 and 2012 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then Brown over concerns voters would defeat it because it was widely perceived as being full of pork projects. Legislators are trying to find a two-thirds majority for a smaller water bond, but so far have not. Critics already are discussing placing a ballot measure on the 2016 statewide ballot to try to kill the project if it gets that far."

Much of the funding for Delta restoration was to be funded by the Water Bond. Without it, there is a major problem fixing the Delta. So, voters might be asked in 2014 to pass the Water Bond only to be asked 2 years later to dismiss the tunnels. The pro and con sides on this are not necessarily the traditional Republican vs. Democrat battles we're used to seeing. Governor Brown has both U.S. Senators Boxer and Feinstein in his camp, along with the blessings of President Obama whose federal Bureau of Reclamation oversees much of the water in the state. On the other side are a group of Bay-Delta area Congressmen (George Miller, John Garamendi, Doris Matsui, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Jackie Speier) and state legislators who see the project as detrimental to the health of the Delta.

We expect Los Angeles area Democrats to support it, if they ever have the curiosity to figure out where their water comes from. The Natural Resources Defense Council, always the lead group when it comes to stabbing Central Valley farmers in the back (see SJ River Restoration and the Delta Smelt) is proposing a smaller version of the tunnels which would get water to L.A., but leave farmers out of the deal. This will also pit pro-union democrats who need jobs vs. pro-environmental democrats who hate growth. If there wasn't so much at stake for the Central Valley, this might actually be fun to watch.   


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