FRESNO (CBS / AP) — California water officials said on Wednesday that a $14 billion twin-tunnel plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would restore the ecosystem and reduce mortality of threatened fish, although during dry years the delta smelt would be killed at the same rate as today.
Analysis contained in thousands of pages of several new draft chapters released by the California Resources Agency shows that during dry years, the existing pumps in the south portion of the delta would continue to divert water, cause reverse flows and kill the fish that get caught in the machinery.
Officials said the plan does provide a cumulative net gain of fish recovery over time. There would be significant improvements for the smelt during wet years, they said, because water would be diverted from the north portion of the delta, where fish would not be sucked into deadly pumps.
In addition, the creation of thousands of acres of tidal wetlands would increase smelt habitat and food for the species.
Environmentalists said the plan continues to rely on taking too much water out of the delta, and habitat restoration would not be enough to offset the impact of the tunnels on fish.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a federal and state initiative that includes a proposal unveiled by Gov. Jerry Brown in July.
The 35-mile twin underground tunnel project would carry water south to vast farmlands and thirsty cities. It would have a total capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second and its three proposed intakes would be located along the Sacramento River between Freeport and Courtland.
Construction and operation costs would be covered by water contractors.
The plan calls for creation of more than 100,000 acres of new habitat — floodplains, tidal marshes and grasslands — at a cost of $3.2 billion, to be paid by taxpayers. About 30,000 acres of that habitat would be created in the next 15 years.
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