- The California Department of Water Resources is withdrawing all permit applications for the controversial WaterFix twin-tunnel project through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, according to a California Natural Resources Agency press release. DWR will pursue a single-tunnel option instead.
- The new preliminary estimate for the 30-mile project is approximately $11 billion, which is about $5 billion less than the original twin-tunnel bill of $16.2 billion, The Sacramento Bee reported, and $9 billion less than the cost with inflation included. Officials said the project is necessary to secure the delivery of water south by protecting the supply from saltwater intrusion caused by sea-level rise and from the effects of earthquakes.
- DWR officials said the new paperwork and permitting could take as long as three years to put together but that the new direction toward a scaled-down tunnel could also mean a reduced construction and delivery timeline for the water project.
The decision to downsize the project from two tunnels to one is also expected to appease many of the groups that have protested the project on environmental grounds. Also, local water agencies that have a financial obligation to the project should find the leaner price tag a little easier to swallow. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, in particular, had pushed back against the fairness of its $11 billion share and the impact of such a large investment on its customers.
The single-tunnel plan is also more in line with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s April executive order that directs state agencies to create a resilient water supply. The new initiative is tackling the state’s depleted groundwater, unsafe drinking water, flood risks, the challenge of creating a steady supply of water for agricultural use and the threat of extinction for native fish populations.
Water management sometimes strays into the realm of water safety, and, when the issue is severe enough, the Environmental Protection Agency can step in and mandate improvements.
The city of Shreveport, Louisiana, for instance, is working under a federal consent decree ordering officials to perform a $1 billion overhaul of the city’s sewer system after a series of sanitary sewer overflows more than 10 years ago. Work on the EPA’s 2009 mandate began in 2014, and the city has 12 years to complete the work or else face fines of up to $2,500 per day. The original budget for the program was $350 million but has risen to $1 billion. Just last month, the city selected the team of Burns & McDonnell and Bonton Associates to take over the work.