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State extends review of $25-billion delta plan; 30,000 pages not enough

30,000 pages wasn't enough. State extending review of delta tunnel proposal

Apparently 30,000 pages of environmental reviews and draft plans are not enough when it comes to the proposal to build two massive water tunnels in Northern California.

State officials announced Wednesday that more work is needed, signaling another delay in the biggest water supply project proposed in California in decades.

Backed by major urban and agricultural water districts, the project would change the way some Northern California supplies are sent south to the San Joaquin Valley and the Southland.

Sacramento River water would be diverted into two 30-mile-long tunnels and conveyed under the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta to existing pumping facilities.

The $25-billion project also includes extensive restoration of fish and wildlife habitat in the delta. Supporters say the changes will improve environmental conditions and in the process, ease pumping restrictions that have cut water exports.

But delta interests and some environmental groups are staunchly opposed, arguing that the tunnels will rob the delta of more water, compounding its many ecological problems and diminishing the quality of delta irrigation supplies.

The state released piles of draft plans and environmental documents in December and opened them up to public comment. Originally slated for four months, the comment period was extended until the end of July.

“We received a lot of insightful comments,” said Nancy Vogel, public affairs director for the state Department of Water Resources. “We’re going through them all now and we see some places where we’d like to improve the plan."

The state and federal agencies involved in the project will revise parts of the drafts and re-issue them early next year -- for more public comment.

That will push a final decision on the tunnels – originally scheduled for late this year – well into 2015.

Bob Muir, spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said agency officials were not surprised by the announcement and didn’t “foresee significant impacts to the schedule.”

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