SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Water districts and households across California could be compelled to help pay for Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans to build two giant tunnels to ferry water to cities and farms mainly in central and Southern California, under newly revealed plans to shore up funding for the struggling $16 billion project.
The tougher state funding demands pivot from longstanding state and federal assurances that only local water districts that seek to take part in the mega-project would have to pay for the twin tunnels, the most ambitious re-engineering of California’s complex north-to-south water system in more than a half-century.
The Associated Press obtained new documents from the state’s largest agricultural water agency and confirmed the expanded funding demands in phone and email interviews with state and local water officials.
With no major water district yet signing on voluntarily to help pay for the project amid uncertainty about its costs and benefits, state and local promoters of the tunnels now contend that dozens of local water agencies representing millions of Californians are obligated to help foot the bill under their existing contracts.
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While speculation of that arrangement has swirled privately, “this is the first acknowledgement that we’ve heard” from the state that those water agencies would be on the hook, said Paul Gosselin, director of Northern California’s Butte County water district.
His agency would get no water from the tunnels and has been seeking written state and federal guarantees that its customers would not have to pay for them. He’s gotten no such assurances.
“Any of these funding mechanisms has been in a black box — none of it’s been described to us, the contractors, or the public,” Gosselin said.
Brown’s administration intends to exclude from the funding obligation a half-dozen Northern California water districts, like Gosselin’s, that would get no water from the tunnels, although just how hasn’t been worked out, said Lisa Lien-Mager, spokeswoman for the state Natural Resources Agency.
The two tunnels — each 35 miles long and the width of a three-lane highway — would tap into Northern California’s Sacramento River to provide more reliable supplies for points south. Brown says the tunnels would modernize the existing water delivery system built under his father, then-Gov. Pat Brown….