- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Southern California’s largest water supplier can move ahead with plans to buy sprawling farmland that could be used to help build twin tunnels far to the north through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a judge ruled Thursday.

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is buying 20,000 acres in the delta east of San Francisco in a deal challenged by communities there.

The delta supplies water to vast farmlands and millions of Californians as far south as San Diego.

Metropolitan say it may use the land to pile earth dug from the tunnels project or restore delta habitat, among options, but nothing has been decided.

San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties had asked San Joaquin County Superior Court to block the purchase, arguing that Metropolitan needs to study potential harm to the delta.

The counties want to block the tunnels, a $15.7 billion plan to send delta water south, which awaits regulatory approval.

The judge dismissed the temporary restraining order, but the counties could still pursue a lawsuit, said San Joaquin County Counsel Mark Myles.

Metropolitan is buying the land from a Swiss investment group for $175 million.

“We are pleased but not surprised by the ruling, given that Metropolitan is simply purchasing the land and not initiating a project,” Metropolitan’s Bob Muir said.

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