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Timeline: The Long History of California’s Delta Tunnels Plan

For more than 50 years, Californians have been considering new ways to move water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Here’s a graphic look at the important milestones.

Written by Tara Lohan Published on Read time Approx. 1 minutes
Aerial view shows a tanker ship traversing the California Delta. Much of the water supply for Central and Southern California is derived from the Delta, which – including land and water – covers about 1,100 square miles.Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources

It’s been more than half a century since Californians started talking seriously about building a new conveyance system – canals or tunnels – to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta to south Delta pumps for export to farms and cities in the south.

California’s Department of Water Resources’ California Water Plan suggested a “Trans-Delta System” in 1957 to convey water around the Delta. And in the 1960s the idea of a “peripheral canal” emerged.

Over the decades the plan has changed, but public support or opposition remains largely decided by geography, with more opponents found in the northern part of the state. And the guiding force for such a project – in the 1980s and today – has been Gov. Jerry Brown.

The latest incarnation of the plan was proposed in 2015 as California WaterFix, which would involve three new intakes on the Sacramento River to divert water into two 40ft-wide tunnels sunk 150ft below ground.

A look back at the past 50 years shows how the project has evolved and how it’s currently progressing.

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