SCV Water head backs governor’s plan for one tunnel, not two

Twin Tunnel system. Graphic courtesy Department of Water Resources.

One tunnel or two tunnels — the state’s plan to overhaul the crumbling water conveyance system that brings Northern California water to Southern California is all right with local water officials.

On Thursday, as directed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Natural Resources Agency announced the California Department of Water Resources will withdraw plans for a twin-tunnel conveyance project and, instead, advance a single-tunnel solution for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta.

Half of the water consumed by Santa Clarita Valley residents comes from Northern California via the State Water Project. The other half comes from groundwater.

For years, state water officials have wrangled over ways of improving the way water is conveyed north to south.

The popular project pursued over the past couple of years has been the twin-tunnel project, known as WaterFix.

The underlying concern — whether it’s to be one tunnel or two tunnels — is that the system needs to be upgraded.

On Thursday, the head of the water agency that supplies water throughout the SCV responded to the state’s change of plans.

Matt Stone, general manager of the SCV Water agency, issued a written statement, saying: “It is reassuring that Gov. Newsom recognizes that the status quo is not an option and that the outdated and vulnerable conveyance system through the Delta must be updated.”

“While we are aggressively pursuing projects to expand local supplies, like groundwater

recharge and recycling, it isn’t an ‘either-or’ option.

“To ensure a diverse water supply – one that will be resilient through climate change and potential earthquakes across California – we also need a modern conveyance solution through the Delta,” Stone said. “We support the Newsom administration’s decision, and look forward to participating in a project that will both meet water reliability needs and minimize impacts to the communities and ecology of the Delta.”

On Thursday, state water officials took the first step in making the change by  withdrawing proposed permits for the WaterFix project. Instead, they began pursuing a renewed environmental review and planning process for a “smaller, single-tunnel project that will protect a critical source of water supplies for California.”

State water officials said in a news release issued Thursday: “Today’s actions implement Gov. Gavin Newsom’s direction earlier this year to modernize the state’s water delivery infrastructure by pursuing a smaller, single-tunnel project through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.”

The project is needed, they said, to protect water supplies from sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion into the Delta, as well as earthquake risk.

The new project is expected to protect water supply reliability while limiting impacts on local Delta communities and fish.

The change in plans follows the governor’s recent executive order directing state agencies to develop a comprehensive statewide strategy to build a climate-resilient water system.

“A smaller project, coordinated with a wide variety of actions to strengthen existing levee protections, protect Delta water quality, recharge depleted groundwater reserves, and strengthen local water supplies across the state, will build California’s water supply resilience,” said Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot.

On Thursday, DWR Director Karla Nemeth rescinded various permitting applications for the Water Fix project, including those in front of the State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and federal agencies responsible for compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

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