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Obama administration comes to the aid of California's delta tunnels water project

A waterway that connects to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta runs along Route 4, just outside Stockton. (Los Angeles Times)
A waterway that connects to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta runs along Route 4, just outside Stockton. (Los Angeles Times)

The outgoing Obama administration on Wednesday tried to nudge forward Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to build two giant north-south water tunnels for California.

In an executive order, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell directed federal wildlife officials on Wednesday to release by Jan. 17 a preliminary environmental opinion that directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to assist as the $15.7-billion project seeks state and federal permits and other approvals.

Brown welcomed Jewell's move, saying in a statement that “it commits the federal government to a timely review” of the proposed tunnels.

Brown wants a handful of California water districts to build the twin, 35-mile-long water tunnels to pipe Northern California's water to Central and Southern California. The Obama administration also has supported the project.

Brown says the tunnels would ensure a more reliable water supply for Central and Southern California farms and cities. Environmental groups disagree with Brown over whether the giant tunnels would hurt endangered state species.

Senior attorney Doug Obegi at the Natural Resources Defense Council described Wednesday's order as no more than a work plan for remaining action on the project, and not binding on the Trump administration. “It's certainly not a green light for the tunnels,” Obegi said.

Final decisions on the tunnels will be made under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has called for more water for California farmers but has not specifically addressed the Democratic governor's tunnels project.

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