In response to dozens of pending protests, state and federal officials asked for a two-month delay in hearings that could decide the fate of Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial plan to build two massive tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
On Monday, the state Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – the agencies that run the huge Delta pumps – requested a 60-day continuance on hearings that were scheduled to begin in early May at the State Water Resources Control Board.
The agencies said in a letter that they believe the extra time could help resolve or consolidate protests from a slew of environmental groups, and Delta and Northern California water agencies. A spokesman for the board said the request is under consideration. Reclamation spokesman Shane Hunt said the hope is to whittle down some of the individual complaints before the lengthy hearings start.
The requested delay appears to have nothing to do with a complaint filed last week by a powerful water conglomerate made up of mostly San Joaquin Valley farm-water suppliers demanding that two members of the board be disqualified from the hearings.
The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority argued that control board Chair Felicia Marcus and board member Tam Doduc, the presiding officers in the hearing, have already made up their minds about a critical issue that could translate into less water delivered to San Luis and other water agencies south of the Delta.
Coming from a critical financier of the project, the protest raised fresh questions about the viability of the $15.5-billion tunnels plan, which is designed to re-engineer the plumbing of the Delta, repair its fragile ecosystem, and shore up the reliability of deliveries of water pumped to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Those deliveries often are interrupted by the need to keep water in the Delta to preserve fish, as well as other environmental concerns.
In order to build the tunnels, the state and federal agencies need permission from the control board to divert water from the Sacramento River at a point near Clarksburg, north of the existing pumps in Tracy.