After years of planning, the state of California released the latest version of its controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan on Dec. 9. Encompassing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which drains about half the land mass of the state, the $24.75-billion plan aims to balance the goals of helping 56 species of plants and animals to recover while stabilizing Delta water deliveries to agricultural and municipal users.

The plan's centerpiece includes $16 billion for three new water intakes outfitted with fish-protection screens at the delta's north end; two 30-mile-long, gravity-fed water-conveyance tunnels; and numerous new and upgraded gate and forebay facilities. The new intakes are intended to prevent damaging reverse flows of the Sacramento River that occur with the existing intakes, which are 35 miles downstream from the proposed facilities.

The twin 40-ft-dia tunnels would be bored 150 ft below ground level and designed to carry a maximum of 9,000 cu ft per second, rather than the originally proposed 15,000 cfs. Since the draft plan was revealed earlier this year, planners say they have changed the dual-tunnel alignment and reduced the project's surface footprint by half to mitigate disruption to local communities.

John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, says the plan is essential because the "current situation in the delta is unsustainable, and we must act now for the sake of future generations."

The 120-day public-comment phase began on Dec. 13, but opponents didn't wait to begin criticizing the 9,000-page plan, which also includes an additional 25,000-page environmental impact statement.

"After seven years, it still has no financial plan whatsoever and no allocation of costs between the water agencies that have vowed to pay for it," says Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.