California cites fish deaths to push for Delta tunnels

  • Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to the audience during a breakfast at the Colusa Farm Show Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 in Colusa, Calif. Brown wades into potentially hostile territory to pitch his $14 billion plan to remake the state's water-delivery system by building massive tunnels below the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Farmers in the delta region and upriver from where the tunnels will be located are concerned about their water supply if the governor's push is successful. He says the tunnels are needed to ensure that water deliveries continue to Southern California cities and Central Valley farmers if the delta is hit by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or sea level increases. (AP Photo/Appeal-Democrat, Chris Kaufman)

FRESNO — California water and wildlife officials on Tuesday seized upon the deaths of a rare fish in the water pumps that carry water to California's cities and farms to renew calls for replacing the current pumping system with $14 billion twin tunnels.

The deaths of too many of the protected delta smelt in recent months have led to a series of pumping restrictions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, officials said. The pumps ferry water to 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland.

The number of smelt killed this year is nearing an annual limit set on the number of smelt that can be killed under the Endangered Species Act. Already, the pumps have killed 232 smelt and the rules allow only 305 smelt to be killed at the pumps over the entire water year.

As a result of the restrictions triggered by the smelt deaths, 700,000 acre feet of water were not delivered to water users. That has not led to any current water shortages, but less water will be available for storage and may impact some farmers and other water users this coming summer, officials said.

Those restrictions could be averted if the new tunnels are built, they said. Gov. Jerry Brown supports the project.

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