State lawmakers opposed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnel plan are stepping up calls for greater transparency into the project’s finances, as the proposed water delivery system suffered a series of setbacks this fall.

At a Thursday town hall in the Delta town of Walnut Grove, lawmakers representing the region called on the Brown administration to drop the tunnel plan in the absence of greater cost certainty.

“It just seems like you’ve moved this project ahead, not knowing if it’s affordable,” Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, said to state water officials. “What happens if it’s not?”

The proposed $17 billion project — dubbed the Water Fix — would send water from the Sacramento River south through two giant underground tunnels.

The Brown administration has pushed the tunnels as a way to make the state’s water supply more reliable. Central Valley farms and households from the Bay Area to Southern California rely on water from the Delta. The current pumps that draw water from the Delta have threatened local fish, which has forced regulators to slow down water deliveries.

Opponents, including many in the Delta region, say the tunnels could harm local water quality and wildlife.

Local water agencies will be asked to fund the project, but two districts have recently rejected the twin tunnel idea.

In September, the powerful Westlands Water District, which provides water to major Central Valley farms, voted against participating in the project. The Santa Clara Valley Water District followed with a decision to support only a one-tunnel approach.

Both districts expressed concerns over the cost of the massive tunnels.

A state audit in October found that the state Department of Water Resources did not complete “either an economic or a financial analysis to demonstrate the financial viability” of the project.

At the meeting on Thursday, state water officials said they can’t put together an analysis without knowing which districts are pitching in.

“That’s the critical piece of the puzzle that we need to complete the two analyses, financial and economic,” said Cindy Messer, chief deputy director of the State Department of Water Resources.

Pressed by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, for a timeline on the analyses’ publication, Messer said the department could commit to releasing details on the tunnels’ financial viability by next summer.

Dodd and Frazier’s offices said both lawmakers are looking into proposing legislation next year that would require the state to publicly release details of major changes and cost overruns in projects like the tunnels.

Lawmakers Push for Transparency on Feasibility of Delta Tunnels 1 December,2017Guy Marzorati

  • Chris Gilbert

    But what the economist pointed out was a financial feasibility report, which the state says must wait until they know which districts are in, is separate from a cost/benefit study. That has also not been done, after 11 years of work on the project.

    • Truereporting

      Correct. A project financial feasibility is only appropriate after the project’s budget, schedule, financial and non-financial expenses and benefits are itemized.

  • solodoctor

    Brown and his cohorts are playing a shell game about this. They won’t come out with clear cost estimates because it is going to require A LOT more money to build than they are willing to admit. They refute the concerns about potential damage to the environment as well as the negative impact it will have on people living near the Delta. For those who want to learn more about the latter please go to Save Our Delta.

    They haven’t even begun to acknowledge that the whole project is based on a flawed model of water usage in our State: agribusiness in the Central Valley and large urban areas down south want to continue using water as if it is still the 1960’s. Our state population has doubled since then and our water supplies have diminished. How can we continue to use water as if it is an endless resource? The Governor likes to boast about his being an environmentalist. How can he be when he endorses plans like these?!? Come on, Jerry. Let’s get real about this!


Guy Marzorati

Guy Marzorati is a reporter and producer for KQED News, the California Report and KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk. Guy joined KQED in 2013. He grew up in New York and graduated from Santa Clara University. Email:

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