Documents: Huge water tunnels not yet approved, but California already planning to take farms
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER, Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — State contractors have readied plans to acquire as many as 300 farms in the California delta by eminent domain to make room for a pair of massive, still-unapproved water tunnels proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, according to documents obtained by opponents of the tunnels.
Farmers whose parcels were listed and mapped in the 160-page property-acquisition plan expressed dismay at the advanced planning for the project, which would build 30-mile-long tunnels in the delta formed by the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers.
"What really shocks is we're fighting this and we're hoping to win," said Richard Elliot, who grows cherries, pears and other crops on delta land farmed by his family since the 1860s. "To find out they're sitting in a room figuring out this eminent domain makes it sound like they're going to bully us … and take what they want."
Officials involved in the project defended planning so far ahead regarding the tunnels.
"Planning for right-of-way needs, that is the key part of your normal planning process," said Roger Patterson, assistant general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, one of the water agencies that would benefit from the twin tunnels.
The district serves 17 million people in Southern California as well as large farms and businesses.
Brown's administration said re-engineering water flows of the delta — the largest estuary on the West Coast — is essential to undoing mistakes of past water projects and to supplying water to Southern California.
Brown has pushed for a massive delta makeover since his first stint as governor in the 1970s and 1980s. In May, he told critics of the tunnels to "shut up."
Opponents say the tunnels would jeopardize delta farming and destroy vital wildlife habitat.
"If these reports are correct, then we have further confirmation that the tunnels project has been a forgone conclusion," state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who chairs a committee on the delta, said in an email Monday.
The environmental review, "which should be used to choose a project, is simply being used to justify the favored project," she wrote.
Through October, the project officially is in a period of public comment on the environmental impact of the tunnels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which opposed an earlier version of the project, also must still weigh in.
Restore the Delta, a group of farmers, fishing associations, environmental groups and other opponents, released the property plan that was obtained with a request made under the state open records law. The plan targets public and private land in Sacramento, San Joaquin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties to be acquired for the project.
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