Feds Won’t Help Fund California’s $17 Billion Delta Tunnels Project

(CN) – Support for California’s contentious $17 billion water project continued to fade Wednesday after the Trump administration said federal money will not go to the plan to divert water around the West Coast’s largest estuary through a pair of massive tunnels.

In an email sent to the Associated Press, the Interior Department said President Donald Trump does not support Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan, known as the California WaterFix.

“The Trump administration did not fund the project and chose to not move forward with it,” Russell Newell, spokesman for the department, said in the email.

In an email to Courthouse News, however, Newell said the department would continue to work with California to find a better solution.

“While the Department of the Interior shares the goals of the state of California to deliver water with more certainty, eliminating risks to the California water supply and improving the environment, at this time the department under the current state proposal does not expect to participate in the construction or funding of the CA WaterFix,” Newell wrote. ” The department and [Bureau of] Reclamation will continue to work with the state and stakeholders as the project is further developed.”

California Natural Resources Agency spokeswoman Lisa Lien-Mager said in an email the state and water districts already knew of the Trump administration’s plan.

“The statement provided by the DOI confirms what the state and its water project partners already knew: While the federal government does not intend to fund the construction costs of the project they will continue working with the state and stakeholders to facilitate and permit WaterFix,” Lien-Mager wrote.

The project, bitterly opposed by environmentalists, calls for two 35-mile tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The tunnels would funnel water around the delta to the state’s southernmost farmers and cities, including Los Angeles.

The federal government is the latest party to oppose the project, joining major California water districts and powerful environmental groups. In September, California’s largest irrigation district pulled out of the plan citing rising ratepayer costs and last week a Silicon Valley water district voted in favor of a less expensive plan.

Under the current proposal, which is still in the planning stages, state water suppliers are expected to pick up the majority of the plan’s estimated $17-billion price tag. Brown’s project faces an uncertain future due to a lack of financing and his administration is considering a scaled-back approach with just one tunnel.

The interior department’s statement adds to a recent string of blows against the tunnels project, including a pair of damning federal and state audits.

The federal audit revealed that for years under President Barack Obama, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave $84 million to the project without Congress’ approval. It also classified the $50 million spent on the project’s planning costs as nonreimbursable, meaning the funds won’t be repaid by the water districts benefitting from the project.

In addition, state auditors said planning costs have ballooned to $280 million and that Brown’s office has failed to prove the project is financially viable. The report recommended the state prove to taxpayers “as soon as possible” that the two tunnels are feasible before moving out of the planning phase.

Environmentalists called the Trump administration’s opposition to the WaterFix “another nail in the coffin.”

“It is time for Gov. Brown to get serious about solving California’s water problems with 21st century solutions. It is time for him to work with all people across the state to promote and create programs of regional self-sufficiency and to repair existing infrastructure,” Restore the Delta executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said in a statement.

California’s Democratic members of Congress are also skeptical of the project’s finances. On Tuesday, five of them called for a probe of federal taxpayer money spent on the tunnels project under Obama.

“The $84 million spent in taxpayers’ money without disclosure to Congress and kept hidden from the public were decisions driven and executed by the Obama administration and that team,” Newell said in the email.


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