Delta Tunnels

An aerial photo from 2013 shows the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes near Walnut Grove. | Randall Benton Sacramento Bee file
Water & Drought

By David Siders and Ryan Sabalow
July 11, 2015

  • Wealthy Stockton-area farmer’s initiative expected to qualify for 2016 ballot
  • Measure would force vote on some projects costing more than $2 billion
  • Initiative backers have poured $2 million into effort, alarming tunnels proponents

Amid long-standing controversy surrounding Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south, one advantage the project appeared to hold was that Brown could forge ahead without a public vote.

As envisioned by the fourth-term governor, state and federal officials would permit the $15 billion conveyance, and water users would pay for it.

To his detractors, Brown could simply say, as he playfully did in May, “shut up.”

But in recent months, signature gatherers paid by Dean Cortopassi, a wealthy Stockton-area farmer and food processor, have started circulating an initiative to force large public works projects – Brown’s tunnels included – to go before voters for approval.

The measure is expected to quality for the November 2016 ballot, and proponents of the tunnels project are reacting with alarm.

“He has money,” said Robin Swanson, a consultant working with Californians for Water Security, which supports the tunnels project. “And he has his own political agenda.”

Californians for Water Security, a group of labor, business and agricultural interests with its own money and political agenda, holds a significant stake in the outcome of the ballot initiative.

Cortopassi’s measure could make it harder to secure lucrative public works contracts and, in the case of the tunnels project, water deliveries. The group began airing pro-tunnels advertisements in April and started attacking Cortopassi online. The state building trades and other tunnel proponents are preparing for a campaign opposing the measure.

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