Zinke’s letter could lead to trouble for another California project

Salton Sea cleanup in jeopardy as states battle over Colorado River water deal

The state of Northern California was at the forefront of a massive effort to protect salmon that once again prompted controversy, this time after the Trump administration put California on notice it could withhold billions in funding for the Pacific Coast’s largest federal water project.

The water project is the most expensive onshore power plant in the West, known as the Central Valley Project.

The environmental community praised U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke for intervening in one of the West’s biggest battles over water. He sent a letter on Sept. 4 to Gov. Jerry Brown, stating California could be on the hook for as much as $1.6 billion over three decades for a failure by federal engineers to meet environmental standards for the project.

But the action could cause trouble for another project on which the governor and state’s water department have been locked in a dispute about access to the Colorado River’s water in Southern California. That project has been in the news this year with a contentious fight over pumping from the reservoir known as Lake Hughes, one of the biggest in the West.

Zinke’s latest letter came days after two of his senior officials visited Sacramento seeking details on what he’d learned about the Central Valley Project — how the state plans to spend the $49.3 billion that it pledged to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for work to upgrade the water delivery system. The letter came after the same senior officials toured Lake Hughes with a group of local leaders and engineers.

One of the letter’s targets was Sacramento Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who was trying to get the state to use a portion of the state’s share of the project’s water to help alleviate an ongoing drought with water stored in Lake Oroville.

The Lake Davis pumping project had been controversial and had been temporarily put on hold since the state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit in March 2018. The state attorney general’s office said at the time that

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