Water storage projects compete for bond funds


Issue Date: August 23, 2017
By Christine Souza

Now that a dozen applications have been submitted, the California Water Commission begins the process of evaluating water projects that could share in storage money California voters approved as part of the Proposition 1 water bond.

The bond, which passed in 2014, contains $2.7 billion to pay for public benefits associated with water-storage projects. The 12 applications requested a total of $5.8 billion from the bond, with total cost to build all the projects adding to more than $13.1 billion.

Water Commission spokesman Chris Orrock said bond regulations require that "we have to fund multiple projects, be that two, three, 10. We cannot only fund one project. The goal is to get the best bang for taxpayers' dollars in public benefits."

With the applications now received, he said, "We're going to be looking at all 12 of these and eventually, the commission will rank them one through however many are left."

During a commission meeting last week, program manager Hoa Ly noted that about half of the applications are for surface storage, and half are groundwater projects.

Funding applications through what is known officially as the Water Storage Investment Program, or WSIP, included three large-scale surface projects identified by the Cal-Fed Bay-Delta Program Record of Decision:

  • The Sites Project Authority sought $1.66 billion to build Sites Reservoir, a large, offstream storage project that would be constructed west of Maxwell in Colusa and Glenn counties;
  • The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority requested $1.33 billion for construction of Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir in Fresno and Madera counties;
  • The Contra Costa Water District sought $434 million to expand the existing Los Vaqueros Reservoir, situated southwest of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Contra Costa County.

Sites Project Authority general manager Jim Watson said the authority has also released draft environmental documents for public and agency review, with public meetings expected in late September.

"Most of our members have contracts with the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, so they all recognize that if we're able to improve environmental conditions, that will also improve the ability for them to use their contract supplies," Watson said. "Sites can produce additional water to improve reliability to those water agencies, but it's that environmental component that can help improve the reliability of their current contract supplies."

In support of the Temperance Flat project, Mario Santoyo, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, said the authority intends to demonstrate that the project "has the greatest ecosystem benefits and has the greatest longevity in terms of value to the state."

"We are finding out that, not only is it a good investment right now, it's an even better investment as we move forward in time," Santoyo said. "It is the biggest project south of the delta with interconnections with the California Aqueduct, which can provide emergency service water to Southern California."

Jennifer Allen, director of public affairs for Contra Costa Water District, said CCWD and potential partners will continue additional analysis of the Los Vaqueros project, refine potential partner benefits and begin discussions about governance. Allen added that CCWD will also work with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to complete a draft federal feasibility study that will be released for public review in early 2018. A public comment period on a draft environmental impact study for the project ends Sept. 1.

"We see our application making a strong case for providing public benefits in ecosystem improvement and emergency response," Allen said. "We will continue working closely with partners to build a regional facility that provides significant benefits in any type of water year."

California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley said the water bond has provided California with "a rare opportunity" to invest in large water-storage projects.

"We want to have the biggest impact on the water system that we can, and the bigger projects are going to do that," Merkley said.

Along with the requests for Sites, Temperance Flat and Los Vaqueros, three other applications would support either local or regional surface-water projects planned for San Benito, Placer and San Diego counties.

WSIP applications were also submitted for five conjunctive-use projects in various parts of the state—in which surface water could be stored underground in wet years for use in dry years—and one groundwater-storage project in Kern County.

The process of reviewing the applications will continue until February, when the commission will list the public-benefit ratios of the projects, Orrock said.

"If we change any of those (public-benefit ratios), the projects will have the ability to appeal that to the commission," he said. "Then, everything is put together in an ultimate score that will go before the commission in May and June. That will be when the commission will rank them and make what we call a 'conditional maximum eligibility determination,' which is basically saying, 'This is the maximum amount of money that you are eligible to get.'"

To learn more about specific projects, see the commission website at cwc.ca.gov and select the link for Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP) Applications.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.