In a major shift in one of the largest proposed public works projects in state history, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday announced he does not support former Gov. Jerry Brown’s $19 billion plan to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to move water from north to south.
Newsom, in his first state-of-the-state speech since taking office last month, said that instead, he will pursue a smaller, one-tunnel plan for the project, which Brown had called “WaterFix.”
“Let me be direct about where I stand,” Newsom said. “I do not support the Water Fix as currently configured. Meaning, I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already been done. That’s why I do support a single tunnel.”
The project, first announced by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, called for building two tunnels, each 40 feet high and 30 miles long, to take water from the Sacramento River near Courtland, under the Delta, to the giant federal and state pumps near Tracy.
One of the most contentious water projects in recent history, supporters, led by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in Los Angeles, said the plan would allow water managers more flexibility by taking large amounts of water during wet periods, avoiding limits on pumping when endangered fish such as salmon and smelt are near the pumps.
But critics, led by most of the state’s environmental groups and political leaders from the Delta counties, called it a huge water grab by Southern California that would worsen water quality in the Delta and San Francisco Bay, and saddle ratepayers in San Jose, Los Angeles and other urban areas with rate increases to pay for water that would be used by large corporate farms in the Central Valley.
Several large environmental groups supported a one-tunnel project, but feared that two huge tunnels would make it too easy for politically powerful Southern California interests to eventually take more water.
Newsome said he supports a broad range of water projects, including recycled water and better efforts to recharge groundwater.
“We have to get past the old binaries, like farmers versus environmentalists, or North versus South. Our approach can’t be “either/or.” It must be “yes/and,” he said.
“We need a portfolio approach to building water infrastructure and meeting long-term demand,” Newsom said, adding: “We must get this done – for the resilience of our mighty rivers, the stability of our agriculture sector, and the millions who depend on this water every day.”