(CN) – California’s Department of Water Resources dealt a major blow to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnel project Friday, all but ensuring that the controversial effort to divert water from Northern California to the south will not be approved before Brown leaves office at the end of the year.
The state water agency found the project, which involves building two 35-mile tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, does not meet the requirements of the Delta Plan, a set of mandatory water policies that prioritize restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta estuary’s eco-system.
“Today is a good day for the San Francisco Bay-Delta and California,” said tunnel opponent Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta, in a statement. “But it’s not over yet.”
The department sent a letter to the Delta Stewardship Council, another state agency that oversees the Delta Plan, pulling its support for the project.
Department Director Karla Nemeth said she was revoking a previous certification declaring the project, now called California WaterFix, consistent with the Delta Plan, based on “unresolved issues.”
In her letter, Nemeth defended the certification filed back in July, but said, “DWR appreciates that there are unresolved issues related to interpretation of the requirements of the Delta Reform Act and Delta Plan policies.”
The council is set to vote on whether to approve the project on Dec. 20, but without the backing from state officials, the council likely won’t give the tunnel project the green light.
Brown and project proponents say the project will help the Delta’s environment by improving the water transfer infrastructure in California by funneling water around the Delta to the state’s southernmost farmers and cities, including Los Angeles. But it has run into fierce opposition from environmentalists claiming it will devastate Delta’s fragile ecosystem.
Gov. Brown has also had trouble getting buy-in from many of the state’s water districts, which are supposed to front the $17 billion for the project and pass along the cost to ratepayers.
Brown’s successor Gavin Newsom has also been tepid about the project, saying he is thinking about scaling it back to one tunnel.