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Judge shoots down Delta tunnels foes' request to halt key hearing

How the tunnel project might affect Delta landowners

Courtland farmer Russ van Loben Sels describes how the local landscape could change if the twin tunnels plan comes to fruition.
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Courtland farmer Russ van Loben Sels describes how the local landscape could change if the twin tunnels plan comes to fruition.

A Sacramento County judge on Monday declined to temporarily stop the hearings that will decide the fate of Gov. Jerry Brown's Delta tunnels project after its opponents sued alleging the process had been tainted by secret meetings.

In denying their request for a restraining order, Judge James P. Arguelles said during a hearing in Sacramento that project opponents didn't provide enough evidence to show that he needed to halt the water-rights hearings before the State Water Resources Control Board.

Tunnels foes, including the Sacramento County, Stockton, several Delta water agencies and a group of environmental organizations, sued last month, alleging the board met privately and illegally as far back as 2015 with representatives of the California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the lead agencies planning the tunnels.

In the suit, Sacramento County and the other plaintiffs said the secret meetings provide evidence of "deliberate obstruction, and possible collusion." The meetings show that project opponents won't "receive a fair hearing in this proceeding," the suit says.

The water board's hearing officers, in a ruling issued in early February, acknowledged that discussions took place between the board's staff and officials with DWR and Reclamation. But they refused to halt the hearing, declaring that those meetings were procedural in nature and "did not violate the law."

The lawsuit attempted to halt the water board's months-long hearing on whether to allow DWR and Reclamation to divert water from the Sacramento River at the north end of the Delta – a critical element of the tunnels project.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow

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