SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — The Obama administration is pushing for progress on a California water project before it leaves office.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued an executive order Wednesday directing federal wildlife officials to release a preliminary environmental opinion on Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed water tunnels by Jan. 17.

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Brown wants California to build 35-mile-long water tunnels to pipe Northern California’s water to central and Southern California. The newly issued federal order seeks to speed up federal permitting for the $15.7 billion project.

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The order means the project could clears one preliminary hurdle before Obama leaves office Jan. 20.

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.

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