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Twin tunnels tab tops $24B plus interest

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POSTED May 30, 2013 2:17 a.m.

STOCKTON (AP) — The massive twin-tunnel system that would carry water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and its accompanying delta habitat restoration plan will cost half a billion dollars more than previously reported, according to new estimates California state water officials released Wednesday.

The total cost of implementing the plan over the 50-year permit term is now estimated at $24.54 billion.

Water users would cover all costs of tunnel construction — $14.5 billion — and tunnel operation — $1.5 billion. They would also pay an additional $1 billion in environmental mitigation costs. But nearly $8 billion for habitat restoration and other measures to reduce ecological stress would come from state and federal funding, including a water bond proposal approved by the Legislature in 2010 that was postponed because of the recession and other future bonds.

The cost estimates do not include debt service, water officials said.

State officials say the plan will help restore dwindling fish species in the delta while creating a more reliable means to supply water to 25 million Californians and about 4,700 square miles of farmland.

Officials say the proposed project provides net benefits over a 50-year period of approximately $5 billion for agricultural and urban water districts, though the state did not analyze impacts on delta communities or the state as a whole.

But opponents, including delta activists and environmental groups, say the costs keep escalating, the plan lacks a comprehensive benefits-cost analysis, and the state has not included regional alternatives such as water storage and recycling in its analysis.

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