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Feds To Review If Funds Mishandled For California Tunnels

Photo caption: Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water system.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services

Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water system.

The federal government will investigate allegations that the state and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation improperly used federal funds for a $15.7 billion tunnel project that would bring water from Northern to Southern California.

The inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department will look into accusations that California took $60 million meant for fish habitat to spend on preliminary work for Gov. Jerry Brown's project and otherwise mishandled federal funds.

Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility requested the review on behalf of an unidentified federal employee who raised the allegations.

Press officers for the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Monday that their agencies would cooperate with the inspector general's review. They declined to comment on the allegations.

Brown's administration wants to build 30 miles of 40-foot-wide tunnels to carry water from the Sacramento River south to Central and Southern California.

Water districts that would receive the water would pay for the giant tunnels. But key water districts already have paid at least $250 million total on preliminary work for the project and have recently balked at spending more until and unless the project wins full state and federal approval.

Brown's administration says the tunnels will ensure a more reliable water supply in the drought-stricken state. Opponents fear the tunnels will take too much water out the Sacramento River's delta with the San Joaquin River.

Opponents and supporters disagree whether the project will further harm dozens of native fish and wildlife in the delta that are protected by endangered-species laws.

The review of the spending would begin this month, Mary Kendall, deputy inspector general for the Interior Department, said Friday.

Six California members of Congress wrote the Bureau of Reclamation in February asking for answers about use of federal funds for the tunnels project. The bureau had not yet responded to the congressional members' questions but would, spokesman Daniel DuBray said.

Restore the Delta, a group opposed to the tunnels, said Monday that Brown's administration was diverting "funds that are supposed to benefit fish and wildlife to a project that will principally benefit irrigators."

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