Cowin on tunnels subsidy: ‘I can put that to rest’

9:50 a.m. — Updated to fix typo in Cowin’s quote

Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources, told water planners in Los Angeles on Monday that the state will not seek a federal subsidy for the Delta tunnels.

Cowin’s comments came after tunnels opponents last month released a draft economic analysis of the project by economist David Sunding, a consultant for the state. Sunding’s report suggested that a hefty government subsidy would be needed for the tunnels to pencil out, which would run contrary to the state’s longstanding position that water users who benefit from the tunnels must pay the full cost.

Here’s what Cowin told board members of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California:

“There’s an overwhelming amount of public benefit in this project relative to the cost. So it’s not surprising to me that Dr. Sunding, an economist, would look at that great benefit and ponder why there wouldn’t be a governmental investment in this project. Certainly it wouldn’t be the first time there’s been a direct state or federal investment in a big water project.

“But I want to be clear: This was Dr. Sunding’s suggestion. You will not find that suggestion in any future draft or final report that comes from the state of California. So I can put that to rest. We’re not asking for a big $4 billion federal subsidy for this project.”

Cowin called the tunnels a “no-brainer” for urban water users but acknowledged they’re a tougher call for farmers.

At the same meeting, a member of MWD’s Water Planning and Stewardship Committee attempted to make a formal motion requiring staff to return in November with information about how tunnels costs would be allocated among Metropolitan’s water agencies. He said requests for that important information have been ignored dating back six months.

The motion never made it to a vote, however; instead, the committee chair responded that the allocation issue was not on the agenda as an action item. After an angry outburst from his colleague on the board, the chair said it would be considered as a future agenda item.

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