Already facing stiff opposition from Delta stakeholders and environmental groups, Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels project is facing more bad news.
An audit by the U.S. Department of Interior’s inspector general says that $50 million in taxpayer funds were “used to improperly subsidize San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts as they helped plan the project,” The Sacramento Bee reports.
This flies in the face of statements from the Brown administration that taxpayer dollars wouldn’t be used to finance the estimated $17 billion tunnels, which are intended to help California fish and wildlife while moving more water south of the Delta.
According to the inspector general’s audit, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation used $50 million to pay for the tunnels’ planning costs over a seven-year period, The Bee reported.
The audit said Reclamation used “a complex, obscure process that was not disclosed” to subsidize tunnels planning. We found no evidence that USBR’s subsidy was ever disclosed in annual budget justifications or financial reports, and USBR officials could not give a valid rationale for providing the subsidy.”
Said The Bee: “The report comes at a crucial moment in the decadelong planning of the tunnels project. Directors of state and federal water districts south of the Delta are about to begin voting on whether to pay for the tunnels, formally known as California WaterFix.”
Reclamation officials insisted they did nothing wrong, according to the audit. But critics said the audit’s findings were just another example of why the project should not go forward.