$17 billion Delta tunnels plan in trouble after key water agency backs out

By Paul Rogers, Mercury News: In a major and potentially fatal setback to Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17 billion plan to build two huge tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, America’s largest irrigation district voted Tuesday to pull out of the project.

The board of Westlands Water District, based in Fresno, voted 7-1 following an hour of debate and discussion over the costs of the project, which is intended to make it easier to move water from north to south.

Westlands was going to pay roughly $3 billion of the total bill. Now, those costs will have to be shouldered by other water agencies that decide to participate, which means higher-than-expected water bills in those areas.

Among the large water agencies considering participating in the project is the Santa Clara Valley Water District, based in San Jose. The district, which provides drinking water and flood protection to 2 million people from Palo Alto to Gilroy, is scheduled to vote Oct. 17.

Its costs were expected to be about $1 billion for 5 percent of the project’s water. Now that a key partner has pulled out, the likelihood of the district endorsing and funding the project has decreased, said John Varela, chairman of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, late Tuesday.

“My magic eight-ball is just not coming up with an answer that is positive now that Westlands is pulling out,” said Varela. “I can’t imagine how we can go forward when one of the most significant water users in the state is sending a message that this project doesn’t pencil out for them. If it doesn’t pencil out for them, how does it pencil out for us?”

Several large Bay Area water agencies  . . . Read More Here