- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California and federal officials want to delay crucial hearings on Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to build two giant water tunnels to help move water from Northern California.

The 60-day delay was sought Monday by the Brown administration and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It was the second request for a delay of the hearings, currently set for May.

Officials said they wanted time to try to deal with objections to the project by Northern California water districts, environmental groups and others, the Sacramento Bee reported (https://bit.ly/22KUXpY ).

The $15.7 billion project requires approval from the state Water Resources Control Board to divert water from the Sacramento River through twin, 35-mile-long tunnels to draw water for Central and Southern California.

The tunnels would be one of California’s largest infrastructure projects in decades. The project is backed by Brown and by water districts in Southern and Central California.

State officials expect this year to determine whether the tunnels will receive the needed government approval and funding from water districts. Efforts for and against the tunnels have increased in recent months.

Supporters argue the tunnels will be more reliable and less damaging to the environment than the state’s current water-delivery systems. Opponents fear the tunnels will take too much water from Northern California, further threatening farm, tourism, and endangered species there.

On Tuesday, conservation groups petitioned the state water board to summarily reject water diversions for the tunnels project, saying the repeated requests for delays by backers of the tunnels showed proponents were having difficulty dealing with environmental obstacles to their project.

Members of the state Water Resources Control Board, or state hearing officers, will decide all of a growing number of requests and petitions by supporters and opponents of the tunnels, water board spokesman George Kostyrko said.

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Information from: The Sacramento Bee, https://www.sacbee.com

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