FRESNO -- California water officials are set to release the first part of a $23 billion plan to restore and protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem and guarantee a stable water supply for millions of Californians.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan, known as the BDCP, is a federal and state initiative financed by California's water contractors, which includes recommendations for a twin tunnel project in the delta to carry water to vast farmlands and thirsty cities.

The plan's first four chapters, to be released Thursday by the California Resources Agency, spell out the dire state of the delta and detail conservation strategies to restore its dwindling fish species.

According to the proposal unveiled by Gov. Jerry Brown in July, the 35-mile twin tunnel project would replace the delta's current pumping system. It would cost $14 billion to construct and another $5.8 billion to operate. The costs would be covered by water contractors.

The delta pumps send water to 25 million people and to 3 million acres of farmland. But in recent years, federal management plans have limited the amount of water that can be pumped from the delta in order to protect fish species.

The twin tunnels would take water in the north of the delta, proponents say, preventing threatened fish such as salmon and delta smelt from traveling toward the deadly pumps in the south. The project would also come with state-of-the-art fish screens and additional fish habitat.


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The plan also calls for creation of more than 100,000 acres of new habitat -- floodplains, tidal marshes and grasslands -- at a cost of $3.2 billion.

Water contractors and federal and state officials say the project will improve the delta ecosystem, protect the delta from levee failures, and strengthen the state's water supply. Critics -- including environmentalists and delta activists -- say it will harm delta species and destroy the area's agriculture.