The Trump administration announced today that it won’t support a tunnel project to transport water from the California Delta to thirstier parts of the state, only to pedal back from that statement hours later.
“The Trump administration did not fund the project and chose to not move forward with it,” Russell Newell, deputy communications director for the U.S. Interior Department, told the Associated Press.
Such a retreat by the feds would have been a massive blow to Gov. Brown, who has been pushing for the project.
The California Delta, also known as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, has deteriorated and wildlife is being threatened after decades of pumping. Brown wants to divert some of the Sacramento River’s flow upstream and pipe water to existing pumps through two new 35-mile-long tunnels. It would be a way to keep water flowing south and avoid having to shut off the pumps and lose water to the ocean, which occasionally happens now because of environmental requirements to protect fish.
Funding has been a sticking point. Brown wants California water districts to pay $16 billion for the tunnels, but in recent weeks he has talked about scaling back the project after two key water districts opted not to pay for it.
The Brown administration did not comment on the Interior Department’s initial announcement, which marked a reversal from Obama administration’s prior support for the project.
Although the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is not helping to pay for the project’s construction, the bureau has helped with planning and preparing environmental documents. The Interior Department clarified today after hours of confusion that it would continue to work with the state.
“While the Department of the Interior shares the goals of the state of California to deliver water with more certainty, eliminating risks to the California water supply, and improving the environment, at this time, the Department under the current state proposal does not expect to participate in the construction or funding of the CA WaterFix. The Department and Reclamation will continue to work with the state and stakeholders as the project is further developed,” the department said.
Last month, an audit found that Interior officials under the Obama administration improperly spent $84 million in federal taxpayer money to help California pay for planning for the tunnels. On Tuesday, five California Democrats asked the U.S. General Accountability Office to determine whether those payments were illegal.
Trump v. California
The political punches, issue by issue.