Water project backers discuss panel’s decisions

Issue Date: May 9, 2018
By Christine Souza

With decisions made on public benefits, several steps remain before state officials finalize bond funding for new water storage projects, and two large surface-storage projects in the Central Valley face different outcomes in the allocation process.

Under terms of the Proposition 1 water bond passed by voters in 2014, the California Water Commission must allocate the $2.7 billion in funds dedicated to water storage projects. Bond funding must be used for the public benefits of the projects, such as ecosystem improvements, water quality improvements, flood control, emergency response and recreation.

Since commission staff issued its first estimates of those public benefits earlier this year, the commission has ratcheted up the funding for the proposed Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley, which now could receive $1.01 billion in bond funds.

The proposed Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir—to be built upstream from Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River—received recommended bond funding of only $171.3 million.

After a three-day meeting in Sacramento last week, the commission made final determinations regarding funding of public benefits for eight storage projects. This will be used to calculate each project's public benefit ratio, one of four component scores that will be used to determine a project's eligibility for funding.

Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, pointed out that the process of allocating Proposition 1 funding will ultimately add millions of acre-feet of new water storage capacity to the California water system.

"In January, it looked like the commission was heading in the direction of allocating zero dollars for storage projects under Proposition 1," Quinn said. "The good news is that number is back up to allocate the full $2.7 billion. The bad news is, and I believe inconsistent with the legislation that the voters approved, the commission is giving no weight whatsoever to the flow benefits of some of the larger storage projects like Sites and Temperance Flat. It doesn't appear to be a fatal blow for Sites, but it could be for Temperance Flat, and that is not good news."

Although expressing appreciation for the increased funding eligibility for Sites Reservoir, Sites Project Authority Board Chairman Fritz Durst said the project's backers "remain firm in our belief that the state is missing a significant opportunity to flexibly manage water for the benefit of endangered salmon."

Durst noted that the Sites Project Authority will continue working with the commission and its staff to finalize the scoring process and "secure early funding later this summer to continue to advance this critical water storage project."

He expressed disappointment the scoring process "was not more collaborative"—a sentiment echoed by Mario Santoyo, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, which advocated for Temperance Flat.

Santoyo said the message during the commission meeting "was loud and clear that they would not reverse staff's recommendation on the ecosystem (for the project) and if they don't do that, the PBR (public benefit ratio) doesn't change, monies don't change and the project is dead, at least in terms of funding from the state of California."

Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley, president of the SJVWIA, said during a news conference last week that the joint-powers authority will meet to review what happened at the commission and discuss next steps.

"We need to engage quickly with our investors, government entities and water districts up and down the San Joaquin Valley, to make sure they are still interested in pursuing this," Worthley said. "In the meantime, we also need to be engaging in opportunities for funding in Washington, D.C. The project must go forward."

Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, called the commission's decision "upsetting" and agreed the push for Temperance Flat will continue.

"This project is a necessary step toward building a reliable water future for valley agriculture and its communities, particularly with the impending implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act," Jacobsen said.

Justin Fredrickson, environmental policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau Federation, speaking before the commissioners during its meeting last week, emphasized the importance of expanding water storage in California for a more secure water future.

"Storage is important to water supply, water is important to agriculture and, if you eat, agriculture is important to you," Fredrickson said. "Due to regulations looming such as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and with the expectation of receiving warmer, flashier storms, Proposition 1 is a down payment of what is needed for the future. We need to invest even further in storage for the future and for the food supply. There is a lot at stake."

On May 25, water commission staff will release recommendations for the remaining component scores—relative environmental value, resiliency and implementation risk—and the commission will make final decisions on those scores at its June 27-29 meeting. Preliminary award decisions will be made at the commission's July meeting.

Other projects recommended for public-benefit funding by the commission included proposed expansion of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County; the Pacheco Reservoir Expansion Project proposed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District; the Kern Fan Groundwater Storage Project proposed by the Irvine Ranch Water District and Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District; and the South Sacramento County Agriculture and Habitat Lands Recycled Water, Groundwater Storage, and Conjunctive Use Program proposed by the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District.

(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.