California Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17.1 billion Delta tunnels project has been cut in half, after a study found the projected cost of project water deliveries by the project had tripled.
Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director Karla Nemeth issued a memo to the state’s water districts on Feb. 7, acknowledging that the state had lost $6.4 billion of water district financial support and would only begin building one of the two planned tunnels.
Gov. Brown played hardball at the 2015 height of the five-year drought to coerce the state legislature’s Democrat-majority to jam through the Delta WaterFix to build two huge tunnels under the San Joaquin Delta. Their purpose is to deliver more water down the California aqueduct to Los Angeles. Brown’s success in that effort, and in passing a water bond later through a referendum, was hailed as a sign of bipartisan leadership.
The 35-mile long, 40-foot wide Delta tunnels, which were to be built 150 feet below ground, are expected to be bigger than the English Channel Tunnels and Boston’s Big Dig subway excavations.
To pay the $12.1 billion for the tunnels and $5 billion for a string of other environmentalist pet projects, Brown negotiated deals with several Central and Southern California water districts to buy the project’s up to 4.9 million acre-feet of extra water deliveries each year.
But the deal began to melt on July 17, when Goldman Sachs made a presentation to the project’s biggest participant, Fresno-based Westlands Water District, which holds a 26 percent share in the endeavor. According to Goldman’s report, the average cost of water exports from the Delta could rise by $260 per acre foot by 2033, or about two to three times the price charged by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation this year.
Three months later, a U.S. Department of Interior Inspector General’s audit found that during the Obama administration, federal Bureau of Reclamation financial assistance agreements with the State of California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) did not “fully disclose to Congress and other stakeholders the $84.8 million cost of its participation in the BDCP efforts, including its subsidizing of the Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) water contractors’ share of BDCP costs.”
The IG stated that the Bureau of Reclamation submitted “inaccurate annual Calfed Bay-Delta certified financial reports” and “the actions it took to fund BDCP planning costs were neither transparent nor consistent.” The IG referred the matter for a potential U.S. Justice Department civil or criminal proceedings.
The Associated Press also obtained documents demonstrating that the WaterFix agreements had been tweaked in an “update” so that every one of the 29 water districts that receive water from the existing California State Water Project would be “jointly responsible” to pay for the full cost of the tunnels.
The real issue preventing the project from coming to its full fruition may be that Jerry Brown is a 79-year-old lame-duck politician on his way out of the governor’s office and lacks the clout to force the state’s diverse interests to cooperate.