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Newsom administration unveils new $20-billion cost estimate for delta water tunnel

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Newsom administration unveils new $20-billion cost estimate for delta water tunnel

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration announced that the estimated cost of building a tunnel to transport water beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has risen to $20.1 billion.

The estimate is part of a new cost-benefit analysis by the California Department of Water Resources, which concluded that the projected benefits of constructing the water tunnel would far outweigh the costs.

State officials released the analysis Thursday, saying the proposed Delta Conveyance Project is vital to improving the reliability of water supplies in the face of climate change, sea level rise and the risks of an earthquake that could put existing infrastructure out of commission for months.

The state estimates that the project’s benefits would total nearly $38 billion by offsetting steep reductions in water deliveries due to existing infrastructure limitations and climate change.

A gull flies above McLeod Lake in Stockton.

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(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

“The project easily passes a benefit-cost test,” said David Sunding, a UC Berkeley emeritus professor who led the analysis as a consultant for the state. “The benefits clearly justify the costs.”

The last time the state produced an estimate, in 2020, the price tag came to $16 billion. The cost increase, Sunding said, is almost entirely due to inflation. The projected benefits also increased.

The cost analysis is the state’s latest step toward building the 45-mile tunnel, which would create a second route to draw water from the Sacramento River into the aqueducts of the State Water Project.

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Newsom says the project is critical for California’s future, but opponents argue it is a costly boondoggle that would harm the delta and further imperil its ecosystem.

Environmental groups, Indigenous tribes, fishing organizations and local agencies have filed lawsuits seeking to block the project.

This week, dozens of groups filed protests with the State Water Resources Control Board challenging a state petition to change its “point of diversion” in the delta — one of the steps necessary to move forward with construction.

The State Water Project supplies 27 million people and about 750,000 acres of farmland — fueling a $2.3-trillion portion of the state’s economy.

Flooded rice fields along the San Joaquin River in Stockton.

Flooded rice fields along the San Joaquin River in Stockton.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

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But state officials say the state’s existing pumping infrastructure in the south delta, which draws water into the California Aqueduct, is vulnerable to the more intense extremes driven by climate change, as well as sea level rise.

Aggressive and impactful reporting on climate change, the environment, health and science.

They estimate that if the state relies on its current infrastructure, there would likely be a 22% reduction in water deliveries by 2070. However, construction of the tunnel would boost supplies by an estimated 400,000 acre-feet annually, compared to the “no project” alternative.

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The estimates included an analysis of impacts from sea level rise — using scenarios of a 1.8 feet or 3.5 feet rise by 2070 — which would bring increasing risks of delta levees failing or being overtopped, and higher salinity water encroaching on existing infrastructure.

State officials also analyzed the risk that a major earthquake would pose to the existing infrastructure, which they say could disrupt deliveries of supplies for months. Sunding said the tunnel would have a “superior ability” to withstand earthquakes and would make the state’s system less vulnerable.

A sign of opposition to the Delta Conveyance Project along a levee road near the Sacramento River in Hood.

A sign of opposition to the Delta Conveyance Project along a levee road near the Sacramento River in Hood.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

“I get a lump in my throat when I look at the potential for a catastrophic failure in the delta,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the state Department of Water Resources. “This is a project that just provides enormous value to the broad California economy.”

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Nemeth said the analysis shows that doing nothing would mean substantial costs for the state through frequent water shortages, mandatory restrictions in cities, and reductions in agricultural supplies that would force farmers to leave fields dry and fallow.

“It is vastly more efficient and economical to avoid declining supplies,” Nemeth said.

The costs of the project would be paid for by urban and agricultural water districts that decide to participate.

The state’s cost-benefit analysis is intended to provide information that local water agencies, such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, will consider.

The Antioch Bridge over the San Joaquin River

The Antioch Bridge over the San Joaquin River.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

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In preparing the updated cost estimate, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority examined potential “design and construction innovations” that could reduce the overall costs by about $1.2 billion.

Currently, about 56% of water deliveries from the State Water Project supply urban areas, while nearly 44% go to agriculture.

The analysis projects that with the tunnel, California would have fewer periods of mandatory water rationing and also less severe rationing, Sunding said. The project “helps to preserve the supplies that would otherwise be eroded through climate change,” he said.

State officials also compared the costs of additional supplies from the tunnel, at $1,325 per acre-foot, to the costs of additional supplies through investments in desalination, wastewater recycling, stormwater capture and conservation.

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Sunding said they found the median costs of these other types of investments would be higher, with the exception of conservation, which is “in the same ballpark” with the project.

“But it is important to note that we’ve done a lot of water conservation in the state, particularly in Southern California and some parts of the Bay Area, and a lot of the cheapest water conservation projects have already been done,” Sunding said. “So there are limits to how much more water conservation there can be.”

However, other experts say California still has a great deal of potential to continue reducing water use through conservation. Researchers with the Pacific Institute, a water think tank, found in a 2022 study that the state could reduce water use by more than 30% in cities and suburbs by investing in measures to use water more efficiently.

Opponents of the tunnel project have argued the state should instead invest in other approaches in the delta, such as shoring up levees and restoring natural floodplains to reduce flood risks, while changing water management to protect the estuary’s health.

An angler casts into a reservoir.

An angler casts into Bethany Reservoir in Byron.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

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Fish populations have suffered declines in recent years, and environmentalists say the tunnel would cause additional ecological harm.

State officials say the tunnel would lessen limitations on water deliveries linked to fish protections at the state’s existing pumping facilities in the south delta.

They point to this year as an example. Despite a wet winter and ample river flows, a rise in the deaths of steelhead trout and other fish in areas around the pumps forced reductions in pumping.

The Department of Water Resources said that if the delta tunnel had been in operation this year, an additional 909,000 acre-feet of water could have been delivered from intakes in the north delta, helping to resolve what officials described as “difficult conflicts” in the south delta.

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“The status quo is not an option going forward. It’s just not something that can be maintained,” Sunding said. “One way or another, the system is going to change. Climate change is going to have its impact.”

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New Hampshire political consultant behind AI-powered Biden robocalls hit with 24 criminal charges, $6M fine

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New Hampshire political consultant behind AI-powered Biden robocalls hit with 24 criminal charges, $6M fine

The New Hampshire political consultant behind robocalls mimicking President Biden is now facing 24 criminal charges, 13 of which are felony counts.

Steve Kramer admitted to commissioning robocalls that used artificial intelligence to generate a voice similar to President Biden encouraging recipients not to participate in the primary.

The Federal Communications Commission also announced $6 million in fines against Kramer.

“It’s important that you save your vote for the November election,” the illicit calls stated, according to New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella. The calls added, “Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.” 

NEW HAMPSHIRE INVESTIGATING FAKE BIDEN ROBOCALL TELLING VOTERS NOT TO PARTICIPATE IN TUESDAY’S PRIMARY

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In this image taken from video, Steve Kramer speaks during an interview in Miami. (AP Photo)

“After we received multiple reports and complaints on the day these calls were made and the day after these calls were made, my office immediately opened an investigation,” Formella said.

He described how his office’s Election Law Unit worked with the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force, a bipartisan task force made up of 50 state attorneys general and the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau. 

Kramer previously told local outlet News 9 he produced the phone calls as a stunt to demonstrate the need to regulate AI technology.

NEW HAMPSHIRE AG TRACES ROBOCALLS WITH ‘AI-GENERATED CLONE’ OF BIDEN’S VOICE BACK TO TEXAS-BASED COMPANIES

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New Hampshire officials announce robocall probe

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella describes the investigation into robocalls that used artificial intelligence to mimic President Biden’s voice and discourage people from voting in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary during a news conference in Concord, N.H. (Amanda Gokee/The Boston Globe via AP)

“Maybe I’m a villain today, but I think, in the end, we get a better country and better democracy because of what I’ve done, deliberately,” Kramer previously said of the investigation.

The New Hampshire robocalls sparked immediate action in outlawing deep fakes impersonating political candidates. The FCC ruled the practice illegal in February. 

 

FCC commissioner

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Pool via AP, File)

With the unanimous adoption of a ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices as “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a 1991 law restricting junk calls that use artificial and prerecorded voice messages, the FCC said it was giving state attorneys general new tools to go after those responsible for voice-cloning scams. 

WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)?

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“Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities and misinform voters. We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

“State Attorneys General will now have new tools to crack down on these scams and ensure the public is protected from fraud and misinformation.”

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court OKs shift of Black voters to shore up GOP congressional district

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Supreme Court OKs shift of Black voters to shore up GOP congressional district

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a state’s mapmakers may shift tens of thousands of Black voters to a different district if they were seeking to shore up a partisan advantage for a Republican candidate.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices upheld a redistricting map drawn by South Carolina’s Republican Legislature and overturned a lower court ruling that called it a “stark racial gerrymander.”

At issue was whether the state legislators drew the districts for political or racial reasons.

All six Republican appointees were in the majority and said the legislators were motivated by partisan concerns, while the three Democratic appointees dissented and said voters were shifted based on their race.

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In the past, the court had said that partisan gerrymandering is legal and as old as the nation, but racial gerrymandering is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The justices reasoned that the Constitution permits elected officials to make decisions based on political considerations, but the 14th Amendment forbids the government from making decisions based on race.

Not surprisingly, however, those two principles come into conflict in the drawing of election districts. At issue in the South Carolina case was a congressional district in the Charleston area held by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace.

That district had regularly elected Republicans, but a Democrat won it in 2018 in what was described as a major upset. Mace ran in 2020 and won a narrow victory.

When the South Carolina Legislature redrew its seven districts in response to the 2020 Census, the mapmakers sought to shore up her district as a Republican stronghold. They shifted more than 30,000 Black voters from Mace’s district in Charleston into a Black-majority district held by Rep. James E. Clyburn, the state’s lone Democrat.

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Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU sued and argued the state’s redistricting plan was unconstitutional. They won a ruling from a three-judge court which said “race was the predominant motivating factor” in the drawing of Mace’s district.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr, speaking for the court, said the evidence showed that partisan motives were driving force.

“To untangle race from other permissible considerations, we require the plaintiff to show that race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district,” Alito said. He added that the plaintiffs did not show race was the dominant factor in drawing the districts.

Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented.

“What a message to send to state legislators and mapmakers about racial gerrymandering,” Kagan said in dissent. “Go right ahead, this court says to states today. …In the electoral sphere especially, where ugly patterns of pervasive racial discrimination have so long governed, we should demand better— of ourselves, of our political representatives, and most of all of this court.”

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Unlike other redistricting cases from Alabama and Louisiana, the immediate impact of the South Carolina case looks to be limited.

Civil rights lawsuits in Alabama and Louisiana led to the creation of a second Black-majority district where a Democrat could be elected. The South Carolina litigation did not involve a possible second Black-majority district.

In March, the three judges who had struck down Mace’s district issued an order that allows this year’s election to proceed using the state’s preferred map.

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AOC demands Senate Democrats investigate reports of Jan. 6 flags flown at Supreme Court Justice Alito's home

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AOC demands Senate Democrats investigate reports of Jan. 6 flags flown at Supreme Court Justice Alito's home

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., demanded the Democrat-controlled Senate investigate reports that a flag associated with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol was flown at Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s home. 

In an interview on MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez described the reports as “an extraordinary breach of not just the trust and the stature of the Supreme Court, but we are seeing a fundamental challenge to our democracy.” She said that Congress did not have to wait to take action against Alito until Democrats had a majority in the House. 

“Samuel Alito has identified himself with the same people who raided the Capitol on Jan. 6, and is now going to be presiding over court cases that have deep implications over the participants of that rally,” the progressive “Squad” member said. “And while this is the threat to our democracy, Democrats have a responsibility for defending our democracy. And in the Senate, we have gavels.”

“There should be subpoenas going out. There should be active investigations that are happening,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And I believe that when House Democrats take the majority, we are preparing and ensuring to support the broader effort to stand up our democracy. But I also believe that when Democrats have power, we have to use it. We cannot be in perpetual campaign mode. We need to be in governance mode, we need to be in accountability mode with every lever that we have. Because we cannot take a Senate majority for granted, a House majority for granted or a White House for granted.” 

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that a second flag of a type carried by rioters during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was displayed outside a house owned by Alito. 

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ALITO SAYS WIFE DISPLAYED UPSIDE-DOWN FLAG AFTER ARGUMENT WITH INSULTING NEIGHBOR

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called for Senate Democrats to investigate flags flown outside a home owned by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.  (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

An “Appeal to Heaven” flag was flown outside Alito’s beach vacation home last summer. An inverted American flag — another symbol carried by rioters — was seen at Alito’s home outside Washington less than two weeks after the riot at the Capitol. 

News of the upside-down American flag sparked an uproar last week, including calls from high-ranking Democrats for Alito to recuse himself from cases related to former President Trump.

Alito and the court have not commented on the “Appeal to Heaven” flag. Alito previously said the inverted American flag was flown by his wife amid a dispute with neighbors, and he had no part in it.

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The white flag with a green pine tree was seen flying at the Alito beach home in New Jersey, according to three photographs obtained by the Times. The images were taken on different dates in July and September 2023, though it was not clear how long it was flying overall or how much time Alito spent there.

Alito and his wife at Billy Graham funeral

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr., left, and his wife Martha-Ann Alito, pay their respects at the casket of Reverend Billy Graham at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Feb. 28, 2018.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The flag dates back to the Revolutionary War, but in more recent years it has become associated with conservatives, Christian nationalism and support for Trump, according to the Times.

It was carried by some rioters fueled by Trump’s “Stop the Steal” movement. 

OBAMA CHEERS BIDEN JUDICIAL MILESTONE AS FORMER ADVISER WARNS OF TRUMP ‘MAGA COURT MAJORITY’ ON SUPREME COURT

Republicans in Congress and state officials have also displayed the flag. House Speaker Mike Johnson, hung it at his office last fall shortly after winning the gavel. A spokesman said the speaker appreciates its rich history and was given the flag by a pastor who served as a guest chaplain for the House, according to the Associated Press. 

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An Appeal to Heaven flag among Trump supporters

Crowds arrive for the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. An “Appeal to Heaven” flag is seen being flown by a supporter. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Alito is taking part in two pending Supreme Court cases associated with Jan. 6: whether Trump has immunity from prosecution for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and whether a certain obstruction charge can be used against rioters. He also participated in the court’s unanimous ruling that states cannot bar Trump from the ballot using the “insurrection clause” that was added to the Constitution after the Civil War.

There has been no indication that Alito would step aside from the cases. 

Another conservative on the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas, also has ignored calls to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election because of his wife Virginia Thomas’ support for efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Judicial ethics codes focus on the need for judges to be independent, avoiding political statements or opinions on matters they could be called on to decide. The Supreme Court had long gone without its own code of ethics, but it adopted one in November 2023 in the face of sustained criticism over undisclosed trips and gifts from wealthy benefactors to some justices. The code, however, lacks a means of enforcement.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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