Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday dramatically scaled back the scope of a multibillion-dollar twin-tunnel project to carry water from Northern to Southern California, saying the state needs to rethink its water-management system.
The roughly $17 billion California WaterFix project was designed to divert water from the Sacramento River as it enters the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and carry it through a pair of 35-mile tunnels to existing state and federal pumping station in the southern part of the delta.
“I do not support the WaterFix as currently configured,” Newsom said in his State of the State Address in Sacramento. “Meaning, I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already been done. That’s why I do support a single tunnel.”
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — the wholesaler agency that provides water to agencies throughout the Southland — agreed last year to spend nearly $11 billion on the two-tunnel project. The MWD initially voted to contribute $4.3 billion, but agreed to boost its investment when the state announced it was short on funding and would only build a one-tunnel version of the project. MWD’s increased investment was enough to fund the two-tunnel project.
MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said the agency plans to work with Newsom’s office to ensure the region’s water supplies.
“Metropolitan welcomes Governor Newsom’s endorsement of modernizing California’s water-conveyance system in the Delta,” he said in a statement. “While a single-tunnel project will not resolve all pumping problems in the Delta and is less flexible for dealing with climate-change impacts, it is imperative that we move forward rapidly on a conveyance project.
“Having no Delta fix imperils all of California. We intend to work constructively with the Newsom Administration on developing a refined WaterFix project that addresses the needs of cities, farms and the environment,” Kightlinger said.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the Restore the Delta environmental group, applauded Newsom’s decision to scale back WaterFix, which she dubbed a “boondoggle.”
“We look forward to working with his administration and the State Water Resources Control Board to created and enforce policies that will restore Delta water quality and quantity, lessen water dependence on the Delta and promote clean drinking programs and regional self-sufficiency for the benefit of all Californians.”
Newsom said the state needs to explore options for protecting its water supplies “to meet the needs of cities and farms.”
“Conveyance and efficiency. And recycling projects like we’re seeing in Southern California’s (Metropolitan) Water District, expanding floodplains in the Central Valley, groundwater recharge, like farmers are doing in Fresno County. We need a portfolio approach to building water infrastructure and meeting long-term demand,” he said.