US Federal fishery agencies yesterday greenlighted a controversial water project that will change the way Northern California supplies were sent to the Southland.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the construction of new diversion points on the Sacramento River and two massive water tunnels would not jeopardise endangered species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which was the hub of California's waterworks.
According to commentators, the release of the documents marked a major, but not the final step of the planning stage that had been going on for over a decade.
The reviews called biological opinions, analysed the impact of the project on endangered and threatened species, including the vanishing delta smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon and Central Valley steel head.
The analysis will shape the rules for the operations and thus how much water the tunnels carried to the big delta pumps that supplied San Joaquin Valley growers and Southland cities.
The agencies that depended on delta water would closely scrutinise the opinions before they decided whether to fully commit to funding the project, which was expected to cost $17 billion.
''WaterFix will not jeopardize or threaten endangered species, or adversely modify their critical habitat,'' said Paul Souza, regional director with Fish & Wildlife, which is responsible for protecting Delta smelt, The Sacramento Bee reported.
According to Barry Thom, regional administrator at the Fisheries Service, his agency arrived at a similar conclusion that ''the project doesn't deepen any harm.''
Environmentalists and others who are opposed to the project said their fight was likely to continue in court. But, according to commentators, the biological opinions had imparted added momentum to the tunnels project.
''We feel this is a momentous step toward the future,'' said Michelle Banonis, assistant chief deputy director at the California Department of Water Resources.