Gov­er­nor’s delta wa­ter project suf­fers set­back

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - A* - By Peter Fim­rite

A cru­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­tion needed to build two tun­nels that of­fi­cials be­lieve would help solve Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter de­liv­ery prob­lems was with­drawn Fri­day, en­sur­ing that Gov. Jerry Brown’s pet wa­ter project won’t be ap­proved be­fore he leaves of­fice in Jan­uary.

The Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources with­drew its pe­ti­tion seek­ing ap­proval of Brown’s $17 bil­lion twin tun­nels plan, known as Cal­i­for­nia WaterFix, which would take wa­ter out of the Sacra­men­toSan Joaquin River Delta and de­liver it to users in the south.

The with­drawal of the pe­ti­tion, known as a Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Con­sis­tency, means the Delta Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil won’t be vot­ing on the pro­posal Dec. 20. The Brown ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­par­ently did not think ap­proval was likely after they were crit­i­cized by coun­cil staff for, among other things, not pro­vid­ing enough anal­y­sis of the ef­fects of cli­mate change on wa­ter us­age.

The project’s op­po­nents called the with­drawal, signed by wa­ter re­sources Di­rec­tor Karla Nemeth, a vic­tory for fish and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“It’s a great day for the San Fran­cisco Bay, delta and Cal­i­for­nia,” said Bar­bara Bar­ri­gan-Par­rilla, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the con­ser­va­tion group Re­store the Delta, which has been fight­ing for years to block con­struc­tion of the tun­nels.

“It’s clear that the gi­gan­tic tun­nels project sub­mit­ted to the Delta Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil couldn’t pass the laugh test when it comes to leav­ing enough wa­ter in the delta to keep salmon and other wildlife alive,” said John McManus, pres­i­dent of the Golden Gate Salmon As­so­ci­a­tion. “What you see to­day is Jerry Brown’s De­part­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources fi­nally com­ing to grips with that.”

The de­ci­sion Fri­day may be a reprieve, but no­body be­lieves the bat­tle is over.

“WaterFix will con­tinue to move for­ward,” said Erin Mel­lon, the spokes­woman for the De­part­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources, in a state­ment. “We will work with the Delta Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil to re­solve is­sues re­lated to Delta Plan in­ter­pre­ta­tion and plan to sub­mit a re­vised cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Coun­cil lead­ers said they are will­ing and ea­ger to work with the gov­er­nor and other stake­hold­ers on a res­o­lu­tion that ev­ery­one can sup­port.

“The coun­cil has been clear in its Delta Plan that we must im­prove the way wa­ter is di­verted from the delta,” said Jes­sica Pear­son, the coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. “We en­cour­age the de­part­ment to re-en­gage with the coun­cil in early con­sul­ta­tion, and ask all stake­hold­ers to com­mit to en­gag­ing pro­duc­tively to ad­dress the is­sues that were raised.”

It is un­clear what kind of sup­port a re­vised ap­pli­ca­tion would get from Gov.-elect Gavin New­som, who has been less en­thu­si­as­tic than Brown, sug­gest­ing at one point that he would pre­fer one tun­nel in­stead of two.

The idea of WaterFix is to mod­ern­ize the state’s wa­ter sys­tem, en­sure re­li­able de­liv­er­ies south and help the delta ecosys­tem. Brown and wa­ter of­fi­cials through­out the state have said the 1,100 miles of lev­ees in the delta are in­creas­ingly vul­ner­a­ble to earthquakes, flood­ing and salt­wa­ter in­tru­sion from down­stream.

The prob­lem with the sys­tem now is that the big pumps near Tracy used by the State Wa­ter Project and the fed­eral Cen­tral Val­ley Project suck in and kill fish, in­clud­ing young chi­nook salmon and en­dan­gered delta smelt. The pumps have also caused por­tions of the San Joaquin River to flow back­ward, con­fus­ing the mi­grat­ing fish, ac­cord­ing to bi­ol­o­gists.

The prob­lems have forced ra­tioning of wa­ter de­liv­er­ies to Cen­tral Val­ley farm­ers, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia wa­ter agen­cies and some Bay Area wa­ter sup­pli­ers in dry years.

The hope is that the tun­nels will de­liver more wa­ter to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia with­out harm­ing the fish. The big­gest sup­porter of the plan is the mas­sive Metropoli­tan Wa­ter Dis­trict of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, which re­cently agreed to pay $10.8 bil­lion of the cost after sev­eral other wa­ter agen­cies balked. Peter Fim­rite is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: pfim­[email protected]­i­ Twit­ter: @pfim­rite

Lea Suzuki / The Chron­i­cle

Gov. Jerry Brown’s ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­par­ently did not ex­pect the Delta Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil’s ap­proval on Dec. 20.

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