California big tunnels win early approval. Questions remain

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown won crucial early approval from federal wildlife officials Monday for his $16 billion proposal to re-engineer California’s north-south water system, advancing his plan to build two giant tunnels to carry Northern California water to the south even though much about the project remains undetermined.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave their green light by finding that the project would not mean extinction for endangered and threatened native species of salmon and other fish. The project, which would tap part of the flow of California’s largest river, the Sacramento, would change the way the San Francisco Bay Area, the farm-rich Central Valley and populous Southern California get their water from what is the West Coast’s largest estuary.

The twin tunnels, both four stories high and 35 miles long, would be California’s most ambitious water project since the 1950s and 1960s. Then, Brown’s father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, helped oversee building of the pumps, dams, and aqueducts that move water from the green north to more arid south. Supporters say the tunnels are needed to modernize and secure water deliveries from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, now done by aging pumps that pull the rivers and the fish in them off-course.

Brown did not comment Monday, though his resources secretary cheered the ruling.

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the massive Los Angeles-area water agency that is one of the project’s biggest proponents, called Monday’s decision a milestone.

“For too long California’s water supplies have been at risk and subject to cutbacks,” Kightlinger said.

Brown has pushed to get regulatory approval and financing squared away for the tunnels before he leaves office next year.

Opponents say they fear water extractions through the tunnels could doom towns and farms in California’s historic Delta and more than…

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