News Feature | January 9, 2017

Obama Admin ‘Nudges Forward' Big Water Tunnels In California

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

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As the Obama years come to an end, administration officials are working to support the controversial California tunnel proposal as one of their acts in office.

The effort by the Obama administration is an attempt to “nudge forward” the tunnel proposal, which is backed by California Governor Jerry Brown, according to the Associated Press. In a secretarial order, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell effectively sped up the timeline for reviewing the project, news reports said.

“This order will ensure the integration of the Department’s actions with those of the State of California to provide a reliable drinking water supply for the public, sustain California’s agriculture, and continue to protect the Bay Delta ecosystem and enhance the conservation of species,” Deputy Secretary Michael Connor said in a statement.

The order directs federal wildlife officials “to release by January 17 a preliminary environmental opinion that directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to assist as the $15.7-billion project seeks state and federal permits and other approvals,” the AP reported.

The outcome of the environmental assessment represents a “key ruling” for the future of the project, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

“A final biological opinion is to be issued in April. By that time, the White House will be occupied by President-elected Donald Trump, who has said he favors more water shipments to California farmers but has not taken a stand on the tunnel plan,” the report said.

In a nutshell, here is Brown’s proposed tunnel plan: “He wants a handful of California water districts to build the twin, 35-mile-long water tunnels to pipe Northern California's water to Central and Southern California. The Obama administration also has supported the project,” the Associated Press previously reported.

The proposed tunnel project is a divisive issue in California. "Decades of fights among government and water agencies, environmentalists and farmers, in courtrooms and conference rooms have brought California to this place," The San Francisco Examiner reported. For the California Department of Water Resources, it amounts to the “most ambitious water project ever," as KPCC put it.

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