Facing uncertain financing and a ballot measure threatening his $15.5 billion Delta water plan, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday called the project a “fundamental necessity” and said he is confident “we’ll get it done.”
Brown’s remarks, following a speech to water officials in Sacramento, came as the fourth-term governor tries to secure federal approvals and funding from water users for his plan to build two tunnels to divert water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south.
“Although there are a small group of people that absolutely hate it,” Brown told reporters, “I know they’re not right, and we will keep going forward, and I think we’ll get it done.”
Several downstream water agencies have raised concerns about the project’s cost and reliability of water deliveries. In addition, Brown will confront a ballot initiative by a wealthy Stockton-area farmer and food processor, Dean Cortopassi, that could complicate or stop the project.
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The tunnels plan is a priority of Brown, who argues it is needed to stabilize water deliveries to millions of Californians and to restore the Delta’s ecosystem.
“If we don’t have the project, the Delta will fail, the water will not be available and California will suffer devastating economic consequences,” Brown said. “This is not a ‘nice.’ It’s a fundamental necessity of California’s current and future prosperity.”
Opponents, including many Northern Californians and environmentalists, say the project will damage the environment. And state Natural Resources Secretary John Laird acknowledged the difficulties of persuading south-of-Delta water agencies to pay for the project.
“That’s the hard sell,” Laird said.
Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources, said the state could have shipped more water to Southern California this weekend if the tunnels were in place. As it is, concerns over the nearly extinct Delta smelt being sucked into the pumps forced the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project operators to back off pumping, Cowin said.
“Today, as we speak, we are ramping down the pumps,” Cowin said. “We’re going to miss an opportunity to export water to Southern California during this weekend’s storm because of this concern (over the smelt).”
The governor’s tunnels plan calls for diverting a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow farther upstream, near Clarksburg, and routing it through tunnels to a point near the big pumping stations at Tracy. Because the smelt aren’t swimming near Clarksburg this time of year, the water could be safely diverted without harming the fish, said Nancy Vogel, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Agency.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a group opposed to the plan, said viewing the recent rains as a missed opportunity to ship water south is misguided.
“How will the Delta ever recover if fresh waters are never allowed to flow through it, even in rainy seasons?” she said.