Thursday, February 29, 2024

California court ruling could threaten key funding source for controversial giant water tunnel project

A California judge says a nearly 65-year-old law doesn’t allow the state to borrow the billions of dollars it needs to build a massive water project, a decision that could threaten a key source of funding for a controversial plan supported by. Governor Gavin Newsom to build a huge underground tunnel that will reroute a large part of the state’s supply. The Department of Water Resources approved a resolution in 2020 to borrow money for an unspecified “Delta Program.” The agency says it can borrow this money without seeking approval from the state legislature because a law, last amended in 1959, says it can make changes to a portion of state water. Project: a complex system of dams and canals that supplies water to about 27 million people. But environmental groups and several counties in the Central Valley say the resolution is too broad. . They said that what the agency wants to build is a tunnel that is not covered by the law. DWR’s latest proposal is to build a tunnel about 45 miles (72 kilometers) long and 36 feet (10.9 meters) wide, capable of carrying 161 million gallons of water per minute out of the Central Valley and into the densely populated southern part of the state. On Tuesday, after years of lengthy court proceedings, Judge Kenneth C. of the Sacramento Superior Court. Mennemeier agreed with the counties. He said the state’s definition of the project “leaves the door open” for the state to build whatever it wants, which he said is not allowed under the law. ,” Mennemeier wrote. Mennemeier emphasized that his ruling was “relatively narrow,” applying only to the Newsom administration’s unspecified “Delta Program” as defined in the DWR resolution. Thomas Keeling, an attorney representing six counties and various public water agencies, said it was clear to him that the purpose of the bond resolutions approved by the Newsom administration in 2020 was to provide financing for the Delta tunnel project. He agreed that the ruling was narrow because it did not prevent the administration from looking for other ways to pay for the project. of DWR in any subsequent effort to finance this taxpayer boondoggle,” he said. Environmental groups and counties that opposed the project hailed the ruling as a blow to tunnel financing. The project’s price tag was previously set at $16 billion, but that was an outdated estimate for a previous plan. The state has not released updated estimates. DWR downplayed the significance of the decision, although it said it disagreed with the decision and was considering an appeal. Margaret Mohr, deputy director of communications for the department, said the judge essentially rejected the broad definition of the “Delta Program” and did not make a decision specific to the tunnel. the authority to build the project or borrow money to pay for it,” Mohr said. Mohr added that “the Delta Conveyance Project is a critical part of California’s strategy to ensure a reliable water supply for millions of Californians—modernizing our water infrastructure to protect against the effects of earthquakes, climate change, and more.” The tunnel, which has been proposed and disputed for years, has drawn widespread opposition from Central Valley communities who say it will harm their economies and the fragile ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The Newsom administration says the tunnel is a necessary upgrade to aging infrastructure that would help the state get more water during heavy rains. It’s unclear what other options the Department of Water Resources might have to pay for the project. Getting approval from voters or the state legislature can be difficult. Just last year, lawmakers insisted on exempting the tunnel project from legislation signed by Newsom aimed at speeding up how long it takes to build major infrastructure projects. Newsom, however, is firm in his support for the project. Last month, his administration completed a landmark environmental review, the final step in a lengthy state regulatory process. But the project still needs to complete a federal environmental review and obtain various state and federal permits, a process expected to take until 2026.

A California judge says a nearly 65-year-old law doesn’t allow the state to borrow the billions of dollars it needs to build a massive water project, a decision that could threaten a key source of funding for a controversial plan supported by. Gov. Gavin Newsom to build a large underground tunnel that will reroute a large part of the state’s supply.

The Department of Water Resources approved a 2020 resolution to borrow money for an unspecified “Delta Program.” The agency said it can borrow this money without seeking approval from the state legislature because a law, last amended in 1959, says it can make changes to a portion of the Project in State Water—a complex system of dams and canals that supplies water to about 27 million people.

But environmental groups and several Central Valley counties say the resolution is too broad. They said that what the agency wants to build is a tunnel that is no longer covered by the law. DWR’s latest proposal is to build a tunnel about 45 miles (72 kilometers) long and 36 feet (10.9 meters) wide, which would carry 161 million gallons of water per minute out of the Central Valley and into the densely populated southern part of the state. .

On Tuesday, after years of lengthy court proceedings, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Mennemeier agreed with the counties. He said the state’s definition of the project “leaves the door open” for the state to build whatever it wants, which he said is not allowed under the law.

“Although the Legislature simply delegated broad authority to DWR, it did not delegate unlimited authority,” Mennemeier wrote.

Mennemeier emphasized that his ruling was “relatively narrow,” applying only to the Newsom administration’s unspecified “Delta Program” as defined in the DWR resolution.

Thomas Keeling, an attorney representing six counties and various public water agencies, said it was clear to him that the purpose of the bond resolutions approved by the Newsom administration in 2020 was to provide financing for the Delta tunnel project. He agreed that the ruling was narrow because it did not prevent the administration from finding another way to pay for the project.

“That said, it would be a mistake to downplay the significance of this decision or underestimate the obstacles that lie ahead for DWR in any subsequent effort to finance this taxpayer boondoggle,” he said.

Environmental groups and counties that opposed the project hailed the ruling as a blow to tunnel financing. The project’s price tag was previously set at $16 billion, but that was an outdated estimate for a previous plan. The state has not released updated estimates.

DWR downplayed the significance of the decision, though it said it disagreed with the decision and was considering an appeal. Margaret Mohr, deputy director of communications for the department, said the judge essentially rejected the broad definition of the “Delta Program” and did not make a decision specific to the tunnel.

“The judge didn’t say DWR didn’t have the authority to build the project or borrow money to pay for it,” Mohr said. Mohr added that “the Delta Conveyance Project is a critical part of California’s strategy to ensure a reliable water supply for millions of Californians—modernizing our water infrastructure to protect against the impacts of earthquakes, climate change, etc.”

The tunnel has been proposed—and disputed—for years, drawing widespread opposition from Central Valley communities who say it would harm their economies and the fragile ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The Newsom administration says the tunnel is a necessary upgrade to aging infrastructure that will help the state get more water during heavy rains.

It is not clear what other options the Department of Water Resources may have to pay for the project. Getting approval from voters or the state legislature can be difficult. Just last year, lawmakers insisted on exempting the tunnel project from legislation signed by Newsom aimed at speeding up how long it takes to build major infrastructure projects.

Newsom, however, was steadfast in his support for the project. Last month, his administration completed a landmark environmental review, the final step in a lengthy state regulatory process. But the project still needs to complete a federal environmental review and obtain various state and federal permits, a process expected to take until 2026.

World Nation News Desk
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