Capitol Alert

Lawmaker pushes for public vote on any Delta water project

Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, speaks on the north steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento in opposition of the state’s proposed Delta tunnel project on October 30, 2015.
Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, speaks on the north steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento in opposition of the state’s proposed Delta tunnel project on October 30, 2015. rbenton@sacbee.com

In a largely symbolic show of opposition to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta water project, a Stockton lawmaker said Friday she is introducing legislation to require public approval of such plans.

The bill, by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, comes as Brown labors to secure administrative approvals and funding from water users for a plan to build two tunnels to divert water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south.

The $15.5 billion project faces uncertain financing and is threatened by a ballot measure that would require large public works projects – Brown’s tunnels included – to go before voters for approval.

Eggman’s bill, supported by a handful of lawmakers from in and around the Delta, offers a more direct assault on the project. It would require voter approval for any water conveyance from the Sacramento River to pumping facilities of the State Water Project or federal Central Valley Project south of the Delta.

Yet the bill’s prospects are dim. Despite years of controversy surrounding the project, legislative leaders have not moved to block the tunnels plan, and Brown almost certainly would veto the measure.

His more immediate challenge comes from downstream water agencies, several of whom have raised concerns about the project’s cost and reliability of water deliveries.

Brown has sought to build a water conveyance around the Delta since he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983. His earlier plan, the peripheral canal, was defeated in a referendum in 1982.

Last week, Brown called the current project a “fundamental necessity.” He has said the tunnels are needed to stabilize water deliveries to millions of Californians and to restore the Delta’s ecosystem.

Opponents, including many Northern Californians and environmentalists, say the project will damage the environment.

“An enormous amount of time and energy has been wasted rebranding and repackaging the same old Peripheral Canal plan that voters rejected decades ago,” Eggman said in a prepared statement. “It’s tragic that despite our ongoing drought, this flawed plan is being forced on us without any true debate even though it will not add one drop of water to California’s supply, but it will raise the water rates and potentially property taxes of millions of Californians.”

She said in an interview that she is optimistic about the bill’s chances because of increased attention to the tunnels project this year.

“At least we’ll be able to have a very public conversation,” Eggman said.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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