Feds Change Course, Approve $15.5 Billion California Water Project

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service gave a crucial green light for the intensely controversial and ambitious California WaterFix project, which would pump water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

2 minute read

June 27, 2017, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Bay Delta

The Isleton Bridge crosses the Delta. | dlove / Shutterstock

"The Delta tunnels got a crucial green light Monday from two federal agencies, whose scientists said they’ve determined that the controversial project can co-exist with the endangered fish that inhabit the waters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta," report Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow.

More specifically, "the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service said the $15.5 billion tunnels aren’t likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Delta smelt, Chinook salmon, steelhead and other threatened species," according to Kasler and Sabalow. The biological opinions, as the reports are called, reversed course somewhat in the months between draft form and final form. An op-ed by Matt Weiser, published in May, used the draft biological opinions to build an argument making just the opposite point: that the project will make life worse for fish.

2017 has long been circled on the calendar as a critical year for the so-called WaterFix project, which in previous iterations this decade has been called the peripheral canal project or the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. A peripheral canal proposal was also defeated by voters in 1982 [pdf].

The article quotes Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District, who says the release of the biological opinions is a "huge milestone" for the project. Ryan Sabalow reported in December that the state signed off on the project in December, and that construction could begin in 2018.

Monday, June 26, 2017 in The Sacramento Bee

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