Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration finished an environmental review of the underground tunnel on Friday, a long-sought and pending project aimed at securing more water during heavy rains in drought-prone California. and reached an important milestone.
The tunnel will be approximately 45 miles (72 kilometers) long and 36 feet (10.9 meters) wide, making it large enough to flow more than 161 million gallons of water per hour. The tunnel would be another way to move water from Northern California, which accounts for most of the state’s water, to Southern California, where most people live.
The Newsom administration has argued the tunnel is needed to update the state’s aging infrastructure. That’s because the tunnels will protect water supplies from earthquakes and allow them to take in more water from storms, known as atmospheric rivers, which scientists say are increasing with climate change.
But environmental groups, Native American tribes and other opponents say the plan would take more water from the river than necessary, harming endangered fish species.
On Friday, the California Department of Water Resources released its final environmental impact report on the project. The report is the final step in a complex and lengthy state regulatory process. But that doesn’t mean the project is close to construction. The project still must complete a federal environmental review and obtain various state and federal permits. This process is expected to continue until 2026.
State officials have not said how much construction will cost. An earlier estimate for another version of the tunnel was he $16 billion. State officials plan to release new cost estimates next year.
Still, Friday’s report is important because it signals the Newsom administration’s determination to complete the project despite strong opposition from communities in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta regions. Newsom said climate change is threatening the state’s access to clean drinking water, warning that the state’s supply could decline by 10% by 2040.
The state recently went through a three-year period without significant and sustained rain. The drought has caused water levels in reservoirs to drop dangerously low, forcing millions of people to ration rations. The drought ended abruptly last winter when California was hit by a series of storms that caused the state’s rivers to flood and fill long-dry lake beds with water.
State officials said if the tunnel had existed during the storm, the state could have pumped and stored enough water to serve 2.3 million people for a year.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” Newsom said.
Environmental groups say the Newsom administration is ignoring their concerns. The Sierra Club said in a statement that construction and operation of the tunnel “will cause massive environmental damage to communities and ecosystems in the Delta region.” Scott Artis, executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association, called it a “salmon extinction plan.”
California already diverts more than half of the water flowing through Central Valley rivers to farms and large cities, threatening native fish species, said John Rosenfield, scientific director of San Francisco Baykeeper. said.
“The science clearly shows that river flows need to increase for fish to survive, but state officials are ignoring it,” Rosenfield said. “Chinook salmon, steelhead, longfin smelt and other fish that have thrived here for thousands of years cannot survive the Newsom administration’s assault on San Francisco Bay and its watershed.”
California Department of Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said the Newsom administration has provided more than $1 billion in funding over the past three years to increase river flows and expand habitat for fish and other wildlife for environmental purposes. He said that he had secured it.
“Our work continues our unwavering commitment to water resilience, not just for human societies, but also for natural societies,” he said.
Adel Hagekalil, general manager of the Southern California Metropolitan Water District, said the agency will review the findings of the environmental impact report to determine “how best to invest our resources.” The water district provides water to 19 million people.
“The recent drought served as a strong indicator of how vulnerable the state’s water projects are. Last year’s water supplies were so low that some Southern California communities had to rely on We were only able to get a fraction of the water we had,” Hagekalil said. “To prevent something like this from happening again, we need bold action and a clear recognition of the challenges we face.”