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KSBR News Briefs on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017

Farmers deal huge blow to proposed California water tunnels

Two massive, $16 billion tunnels that looked to be the future of our state’s water system have been thrown into limbo by a group of powerful farmers, and Gov. Brown and other tunnel proponents are facing the prospect that the project may end up just a pipe dream.

The Westlands Water District board voted to withdraw its participation from the project after more than an hour of tense discussions and comments from farmers who overwhelmingly concluded it was too expensive.

Water is a contentious issue in our state, which leads the nation in agricultural production, growing nearly half of its fruits, nuts and vegetables. Irrigation water now flows through a complex system of reservoirs and canals managed by state and federal officials that was built decades ago.

Brown and other lawmakers say the aging water infrastructure must be modernized.

The project calls for building two 35-mile-long tunnels east of San Francisco to deliver water from the Sacramento River mostly to farms and cities hundreds of miles away in central and Southern California.

Backers say the tunnels will stabilize delta flows, bolster endangered fish and ensure a reliable water supply. Critics say the project will be used to drain Northern California dry and further harm native fish.

Yesterday’s vote — the first among several large water districts — leaves the project's future in peril.


Rail board members question bullet train budget overruns

The board overseeing our state’s bullet train project approved roughly $50 million in contract amendments to deal with unanticipated construction and environmental review costs.

But several members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board said repeated budget overruns are damaging the project's public image and called for more thorough oversight of how budgets are set and spent.

The board oversees a $64 million plan to build high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The project's cost has increased from early estimates of $40 billion.

The money approved yesterday was already budgeted in other areas, so overall project costs aren't immediately going up. But rail executives told the board that money will likely need to be made up later, prompting some criticism.

Voter-approved state bonds, revenue from our state’s cap-and-trade program and federal dollars pay for the high-speed rail project.

One approved change adds $35 million to the contingency budget for a 32-mile segment now under construction between Madera and Fresno counties. That bumps the budget for unexpected costs up to $190 million of the roughly $1.5 billion contract. The money will go toward right-of-way acquisitions, environmental permits and other costs.


Laguna Woods

The Laguna Woods City Council this afternoon may provide input to a committee and staff on updating the city’s smoking and tobacco sales regulations.

Mayor Shari Horne says the city gets more calls about cigarette nuisances than anything else. And the city already has strong rules about where people can smoke.

She says the Council will see a presentation on a possible work plan for the Ad Hoc Smoking & Tobacco Sales Regulations Update Committee.

She says the Council will consider whether to further regulate where tobacco may be sold and if e-cigarettes should be included in the tobacco related regulations. The goal is to protect public health, safety and welfare.

Today’s City Council meeting begins at two in the afternoon.  


iOS  Update

It’s the next best thing to getting a new iPhone or iPad — getting an update to the Apple operating system. That update is rolling out now — and the new iOS includes a number of new perks. But it can also include some new glitches, so some people tend to hold off on being on the cutting edge — of the new software. Some of the new features include an upgrade to Apple Maps — including speed limits and indoor maps for certain airports and shopping malls. It also features a foray into augmented reality — the morphing of virtual images with real-life setting. It will, for example, let you see how furniture will look in your real living room before you buy it. There are also features unique to the iPad Pro. It will help the tablets more closely resemble a Mac — with a dock at the bottom and drag and drop capabilities.


Game Controllers Being Used in Submarines

The U.S. Navy says it will be using Microsoft Xbox 360 controllers to operate the periscopes aboard its newer submarines. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk reports the Navy's Virginia-class subs don't have a traditional rotating periscope because they've been replaced by high-resolution cameras and large monitors. The Navy is planning to integrate an Xbox controller into the system — because they are more familiar to younger sailors and require less training. The Xbox controller will be part of the integrated imaging system for Virginia-class subs beginning with the USS Colorado, due to be commissioned in November.


Walmart to offer extra holiday hours for current workers

Walmart won't be doing large-scale holiday hiring at its stores this year. Instead, like last year, it will offer extra hours to its current workers.

The nation's largest private employer says, however, that it will be taking on more temporary workers at its distribution centers. But it's not giving a number yet for its planned holiday hires at the centers.

So far, the retailers have detailed mixed hiring plans for the holidays.


Words With Friends-Dictionary

There are more words to play in Words With Friends. Zynga says it’s adding 50,000 new words — including many internet slang words like "bae, bestie, BFF, hangry smize, turnt and werk. If you need someone to tell you what these words mean — consult a teen or any of the online slang dictionaries out there. Zynga says players are constantly suggesting new words for the game — there's even a word-suggestion link within the title — and the company tries to accommodate as many as are reasonable.