More than 6 million Southern Californian households could pay $3 more a month to help cover the costs of Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial plan to bore two huge tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
But that’s cheaper than the $5 a month that households in the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s service area were expected to pay under projections released four years ago, Jeffrey Kightlinger, the water district’s general manager, said Thursday.
“Given the importance of this project to maintain water supply reliability for the region, these are encouraging numbers,” Kightlinger said in an announcement posted on a blog on Metropolitan’s website. “It also goes to show the ability of the Southland region to fund major infrastructure projects by pooling our resources.”
The announcement comes at a critical time for the tunnel project.
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After a decade of preliminary planning, urban and agricultural agencies that would receive water from the tunnels have been weighing whether they’re going to pay for the $17.1 billion project.
Some influential San Joaquin Valley farmers who rely on Delta water are balking at preliminary cost estimates. But urban districts such as Metropolitan can more easily spread the costs over millions of ratepayers, making the project seem relatively affordable.
Kightlinger said Metropolitan is expected to pay 26 percent of the tunnels’ costs. Metropolitan typically uses Delta water for a third of its supply. Metropolitan sells water to 26 member agencies serving 19 million people in a six-county service area.
Kightlinger said a more detailed financial analysis is going to be presented at a joint committee meeting of the district’s board of directors Monday.
The project, which Brown’s administration calls California WaterFix, would burrow a pair of 40-foot-wide tunnels along the Sacramento River, just south of Sacramento, and divert a portion of the river’s flow directly to the giant pumping stations at the south end of the Delta.
Brown’s administration says the tunnels would reduce the harm the pumps do to Delta smelt and other endangered species, allowing the pumps to deliver water more reliably to Southern California, Silicon Valley and San Joaquin Valley farms.
Many Delta landowners, environmentalists and fishing groups are fiercely opposed to the project, saying the tunnels would harm local water supplies and further degrade the Delta’s fragile habitat. Lawsuits challenging the project are underway.