Ag Today December 1, 2017

Delta tunnels: Cost study coming, state says

WALNUT GROVE — A long-awaited study on the costs and benefits of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels should be finished by next spring, a state official said Thursday after an independent audit concluded such a study should have already been done.

The tunnels have been in the planning stage for 11 years, but state officials have never completed a comprehensive analysis of whether the project pencils out financially. Such a study could answer basic questions like whether the tunnels will benefit the state as a whole and whether they should be built at all.

The state Department of Water Resources says it has been waiting for dozens of water districts from the Bay Area to San Diego to decide whether they’re willing to pay their share of the $17 billion project before tackling the broader issue of the costs and benefits. Some water districts have not yet made that decision.

“It’s a timing issue at this point,” said Cindy Messer, chief deputy director of DWR. “We’re just short of having the last critical information.”

The rest of the water districts are expected to act by early next year, Messer said. Pressed by Napa Sen. Bill Dodd as to whether the cost study could be done by the second quarter of 2018, Messer said, “I think we could commit to that, yes.”

Thursday’s discussion took place at a town hall meeting hosted by the new Delta Caucus, a coalition of state legislators who represent the region. The auditors who performed the recent critique presented their findings before a boisterous audience eager to see holes punched in a project that they generally despise.

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