President Donald Trump’s administration has decided against funding the Delta tunnels water project in California. The Trump administration’s decision is a new setback for a plan supported California Gov. Jerry Brown to divert a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow upstream of the Delta ecosystem at Courtland, and pipe it directly to the Tracy pumps via twin underground tunnels.
In announcing the decision not to fund the project, Russell Newell, a spokesman for the U.S. Interior Department, told the Associated Press “the Trump administration did not fund the project and chose to not move forward with it.”
In recent weeks, funding for the estimated $17 billion project has collapsed. The Interior Department’s decision, reinforces a declaration by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec), which operates the federal Central Valley Project, made earlier this year the tunnels proposal isn’t a BuRec project and Central Valley Project customers have the freedom to opt out of the plan.
Fish, Funding Controversy?
Currently the State Water Project pumps Northern California river water from the Delta to Southern California. The Delta’s eco-system has declined as a result of the pumping with some fish species put in danger of extinction as pumps are so powerful they cause some of the rivers and streams in the Delta to flow in reverse on occasion, pulling fish toward predators. Restrictions in place under the Endangered Species Act to protect the fish species force the state to shut off or reduce the flow in the pumps sometimes, allowing water to flow out to the ocean. The Brown administration hopes by diverting a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow upstream at Courtland, avoiding the Delta, piping it directly to the Tracy pumps via two underground tunnels, the pumps to can operate more reliably while reducing threats to fish.
Brown had an ally in this project in the administration of former President Barack Obama. In September the Interior Department’s inspector general found under the Obama administration, BuRec spent $84 million in taxpayer money on the initial planning for the project. While state officials claimed all the costs of the tunnel project would be borne by ratepayers benefitting from the tunnels, the inspector general concluded $50 million of the money spent by BuRec would not be paid back.
“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 told the Associated Press commenting on the Inspector General’s findings.
Environmentalists were generally pleased with the Trump administration’s decision not to fund the tunnel project. Several environmental groups have been fighting the project in court saying the diversion of water from upstream will further worsen Delta water quality and harm the eco-system.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.