California Gov. Jerry Brown last week approved a contentious, $17.1 billion tunnel project, dubbed California WaterFix, that his administration says will improve environmental conditions around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, according to The Sacramento Bee.
By directing water from the Sacramento River south into the two, 35-mile tunnels, water will flow more readily into the southern part of the state and reduce the harm to fish caused by federal and state pumping stations in place now.
Although the environmental review is complete for the project, the state has yet to win approval from key water agencies that would provide funding, and critics have vowed to stop construction via legal action under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). State officials hope to begin work on the 10-year project in 2018.
Opponents of large construction projects in California often use its strict environmental CEQA laws as a mechanism to halt project work, or at least to tie up large developments in court temporarily. As another example, critics of the $1 billion Golden State Warriors arena, the Mission Bay Alliance, sued the team's owners with claims that the project was ill-conceived and in violation of CEQA laws.
The Alliance managed to stop progress on the arena, arguing that the venue's location would disturb the operations of nearby medical facilities, in addition to putting strain on the environment. A state Supreme Court judge gave the Warriors the official go-ahead earlier this year, allowing the project to break ground on Jan. 17, but not before the lengthy battle succeeded in pushing back the team's move to the new stadium until the 2019–2020 NBA season.
Across the U.S., environmental rights and water rights, in particular, are hot-button topics. The issue was powerful enough to prevent Washington state lawmakers from reaching a deal on a $4 billion capital construction budget last week. Gov. Jay Inslee had called legislators back for three overtime sessions in the hopes that they could come to an agreement, but an impasse over a law that would allow developers to dig domestic wells and divert water from rural areas derailed negotiations.
Meanwhile, a proposed repeal of the 2015 Waters of the United States rule could lessen pushback from industry groups who say the current rule overreaches and lacks clear definitions, complicating land development as a result. The move, driven by President Donald Trump's efforts to reduce regulations, intends to more clearly define what waterways are covered and to make room for new rules covering the regulation of smaller waterways and wetlands.