SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – Silicon Valley’s largest water district executed an about-face regarding California Gov. Jerry Brown’s beloved water project on Friday, indicating a willingness to foot $650 million for the Delta Tunnels.
Six months after voting down contributing to the Delta Tunnels project, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has scheduled a vote for next Wednesday to reconsider approving the provision of an enormous contribution to a project that seeks to funnel enormous amounts of water from the northern part of the state to thirsty farms in the southern part of the Central Valley.
“I haven’t changed my mind, but I’m willing to discuss the principles if people aren’t on the hook for increased costs,” Dick Santos, chairman of the water district, told the Mercury News on Friday.
The water district staff scheduled a board item for next Wednesday that recommends the board consider the environmental impacts and approve what is formally referred to as the Water Fix and Eco Restore project.
Brainchild of Brown and the staff at the California Department of Water Resources, the project calls for the restoration of the San Francisco Bay and the Bay Delta, habitat to a variety of endangered fish species.
In order to balance environmental concerns with farmers’ increasingly strident calls for more water, the state has proposed the construction of two large four-story tunnels to be built underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta designed to carry fresh water from the Sacramento River to the more rain-starved parts of Southern California.
The tab for the project was $17 billion.
In October 2017, the Santa Clara Valley Water District voted against the project, saying they favored a scaled back less expensive version of the project, in what some said was a death knell to Brown’s ambitions.
However, at the encouragement of the Brown, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, comprised of several major water districts representing the drier south, voted to approve providing $11 billion for the project, giving new life to the project.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District officials claim their reconsideration of the project comes in the aftermath of Southern California’s willingness to put up a significant portion of the funding, but some environmentalists suspect another motive.
Santa Clara Valley Water District, coming off one of the worst flooding incidents in downtown San Jose in the city’s history, has plans to build a new dam that will provide more flood control and water storage.
The California Water Commission, comprised by a seven-person board, all of whom are appointed by the governor, is deliberating whether to disburse about $485 million for the construction of a new dam.
The Planning and Conservation League, an environmental group based in Sacramento, and other organizations have called the timing of Santa Clara Valley Water District’s reconsideration curious.
The Delta Tunnels are touted by Brown and others as a solution to the persistent water problems plaguing California for decades.
The Central Valley Water Project and the State Water Project take water that filters down from the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the northern part of the state and siphon it off to the more parched southern portions of California.
The system of dams, tunnels and pumps constructed in the 1960s and 70s have been effective at moving enormous amounts of water to the south, allowing California’s Central Valley to become one of America’s chief bread baskets, but environmental concerns have emerged.
Namely, the system of pumps that take water south also kills an enormous amount of fish that are unique to the brackish environment of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta environment. Foremost is the Delta Smelt, which conservationists say is on the precipice of extinction.
Brown and Delta Tunnels proponents say the tunnels, which are 35 miles long, will be easier on fish and provide the same type of agricultural and economic benefits, to which farmers have grown accustomed.
Santa Clara Valley Water District officials have long maintained they are concerned about economic impacts to ratepayers, with costs associated with the Waterfix expected to raise rates across the board.