California water project may seize 300 farms

Lawmakers in California are hoping to use eminent domain law to alleviate the state’s water problems. Newly released plans call for the state to acquire up to 300 farms in the California delta to make room for a pair of massive water delivery tunnels.

While the plan is still unapproved, it is supported by Governor Jerry Brown who has advocated for this solution since the 1970’s. Brown’s administration defends the plan as the only option to getting much-needed water relief to Southern California. The California delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast.

Not everyone is on board with the acquisition however. California’s delta farmers say it would disrupt their farming practices, and environmentalists claim that it would destroy an expansive wildlife habitat.

“What really shocks is we’re fighting this and we’re hoping to win,” said Richard Elliot, who grows cherries, pears and other crops on delta land farmed by his family since the 1860s. “To find out they’re sitting in a room figuring out this eminent domain makes it sound like they’re going to bully us … and take what they want.”

Once the tunnels are completed they will stretch 30 miles.

The project is currently in the public comment stage where lawmakers collect feedback and start fully reviewing the plan before implementation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to voice an opinion, but had opposed an earlier version of the plan.

State Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) believes the current iteration of the tunnel project will be the final version despite concerns of farmers and environmentalists.

The environmental review, “which should be used to choose a project, is simply being used to justify the favored project,” she wrote.

The Department of Water Resources says the plan is actually only about 10% complete at this stage. The current focus is on what environmental impact the tunnels will have. The acquisition plan was funded by many of the state’s public water agencies including those in San Francisco and Central and Southern California.

Despite legitimate concerns about legal precedent and environmental impact of the project, in May Gov. Brown “told critics of the tunnels to ‘shut up.'”