Ag Today August 11, 2016

Legislators agree to audit of $15 billion Delta tunnels project

By Alex Breitler
Record Staff Writer

Calling for more scrutiny of one of the largest proposed infrastructure projects in California history, legislators from up and down the state on Wednesday approved a financial audit of Gov. Jerry Brown’s $15 billion Delta tunnels.

A request by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, and Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis, cleared an audit committee with the support of several legislators from the Los Angeles area, which would benefit from water diverted through the 40-foot-wide tunnels.

Eggman and Wolk said their goal wasn’t to block or delay the tunnels, which are fiercely opposed by their Delta-area constituencies.

Rather, they said they wanted additional transparency for a project that comes at a significant cost and yet is not subject to a vote of the Legislature or the public.

“It makes sense that we should have statewide oversight, and it feels to me a win that the whole state is saying, ‘Yes, we should look more carefully at it,’ ” Eggman said after Wednesday’s vote.

The audit, which will be conducted by the independent state auditor’s office, is expected to take seven or eight months.

Critics of the tunnels plan, including Stockton-based Restore the Delta, have identified financing as one of their primary concerns and have pushed for an audit for some time. Among other matters, the audit will investigate exactly how the tunnels will be paid for, and whether any state general fund money has been spent on their planning or design.

The project is supposed to be funded by the water districts that would benefit from it, not by the state as a whole.

Legislators from the L.A. area, Riverside, Fresno, San Luis Obispo and San Jose voted in support of the audit, as did state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton, who sits on that committee.

Adrin Nazarian, who represents the San Fernando Valley, made it clear that while he supports the audit he remains concerned about the need to send Delta water south. “The population hasn’t stopped growing in Los Angeles,” he told the committee.

But ultimately, Nazarian said, the audit will “only strengthen” the proposed project.

A representative from the state Department of Water Resources, the agency leading the tunnels effort, told the committee that the state did not oppose the audit and would be “happy to cooperate.”