Who gets the money ($2.7 BILLION)? Dams or Environmentalists

In 2014 the confused Guv Brown begged us for a $7.5 billion water bond—of which $2.7 billion will go for water storage. Now we know he lied. Once passed, he announced we would not even discuss dams until 2017. Now we find out he has already spent hundreds of millions on water conservation and wetlands–not a dime for dams. But he did use $287 million for the protection of the delta smelt!

“At one end are those who support large, expensive dam projects that would create new storage reservoirs, such as Temperance Flat near Fresno and the long-planned Sites Reservoir in Colusa County — projects staunchly supported by Republican lawmakers, farmers, agricultural advocates and water district managers.

At the other end are advocates for groundwater and conjunctive use (surface and groundwater) projects, which they claim are more cost-effective than the large dam proposals. Most of these advocates are from the environmental community, including Sierra Club California, the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council.”

Once again it is the special interests of the environmentalists vs. the water needs of 38 million people. Since Democrats will be making the decision, we know the people will not get the water. Another bond scam—when will the people of California know that Democrats LIE about the use of bond money? Just vote NO—stop the fraud and corruption.

RB Drought

Who gets the money?

By Andrew Creasey, Appeal-Democrat, 12/11/15

There are a crippling drought, a climatic future that looks more uncertain than ever and $2.7 billion in public funds that aren’t nearly enough to go around.

Welcome to the world of water storage construction in California.

The prospect of constructing new water storage projects was a much ballyhooed component of the $7.5 billion water bond approved by voters in 2014 and a focal point of Republican lawmakers, who threatened to withhold votes unless funding was set aside for water storage.

Now, the competition to qualify for that $2.7 billion and build new water storage projects is coalescing into two distinct camps, with advocates on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

At one end are those who support large, expensive dam projects that would create new storage reservoirs, such as Temperance Flat near Fresno and the long-planned Sites Reservoir in Colusa County — projects staunchly supported by Republican lawmakers, farmers, agricultural advocates and water district managers.

At the other end are advocates for groundwater and conjunctive use (surface and groundwater) projects, which they claim are more cost-effective than the large dam proposals. Most of these advocates are from the environmental community, including Sierra Club California, the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

These divisions are evident in dozens of public comment letters sent to the California Water Commission — the government body charged with developing the guidelines and regulations to disperse the public funds and ultimately selecting which projects will receive funding.

Those comments have been steadily trickling in as the commission moves forward with developing regulations for how prospective projects will apply for the funds and how the public benefits of the projects will be measured.

That process continues next Wednesday, when the commission will vote whether or not to direct staff to submit the draft regulations to the Office of Administrative Law, an action that will formalize the rulemaking process, but not preclude future changes to the draft regulations, said Paula Landis, executive officer of the commission.

Not enough money

One thing is almost certain — $2.7 billion will not be enough to give all parties what they want.

“We fully anticipate that there will be more requests for far more money than we have,” Landis said.

A survey the commission completed earlier this year tallied $6 billion in potentially requested funds from 147 projects.

The finite pool of funds was not lost on advocates on either side.

Some suggested setting aside a percent of bond funds for smaller projects or groundwater projects.

The Groundwater Resources Association of California, in an Oct. 14 letter to the commission, requested 25 percent of the $2.7 billion be directed to groundwater projects that could immediately begin construction.

The California State Association of Counties suggested 10 percent of the bond funds be set aside for smaller projects costing $10 million or less.

Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Plumas Lake, however, said simply constructing Sites Reservoir (estimated cost: $3-4 billion) and Temperance Flat (estimated cost $2.5-3.3 billion) will require all $2.7 billion of the bond funds.

Gallagher argued there are other funds set aside in the bond that could fund smaller, groundwater projects. The bond included $800 million for regional water infrastructure projects and $725 million for recycling and desalination projects.

“If you talk to the people who were behind the water bond and the way the water bond was sold, that $2.7 billion was supposed to be for large projects, not small projects,” Gallagher said. “The idea was to maximize storage capacity.”

Those supporting reserving money for groundwater projects claimed the projects are a better investment.

“Smaller projects, particularly groundwater and conjunctive use projects, can often provide significantly higher water storage and public benefits per dollar invested than larger, more expensive ones,” stated a letter to the commission from Sustainable Conservation.

Surface: More capacity

Supporters of surface water storage projects said most groundwater storage projects will not meet criteria laid out in the water bond that projects that qualify for public funds must provide public benefits, such as flood control, recreation and ecosystem and water quality improvements.

“I’m not aware of any groundwater storage projects that increase the overall capacity of water storage in the state,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Plumas Lake. “Whereas projects like Sites and Temperance Flat capture water that hasn’t previously been captured. That’s new additional net water.”

The criteria also stipulates projects must provide measurable improvements to the Delta.

“I just think there’s going to be a limited number of projects that can meet that criteria,” said Thad Bettner, general manager of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District. “That’s a big hurdle. If you can’t meet those benefits, it will be hard for your project to qualify.”

In a survey conducted by the California Water Commission to gauge the level of interest for storage projects, only 23 percent of the 147 potential projects that responded claimed to provide improvements to the Delta.

Gallagher said there’s a hidden motive behind the push for groundwater storage.

“That whole idea is being pushed by the radical environmental community because they don’t like reservoirs,” Gallagher said. “The real objective is to siphon off money so you can’t build the reservoir projects.”

State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, echoed a similar sentiment in an Oct. 21 letter to the commission.

“There are countless ways to fritter away these funds on marginal projects, and that is precisely what many opponents of storage would be happy to see,” Gaines wrote. “But I strongly believe that these funds should be directed to the projects that show the most bang for the buck, and the Sites Reservoir project is such a project.”

And while these two camps battle it out, the commission does not make any distinction between groundwater or surface water storage projects, said Paula Landis, executive officer of the commission.

“Any project that can demonstrate that it has public benefit, makes improvements to the Delta and is a good investment is eligible,” Landis said.

Ground: Level the field

As the California Water Commission moves toward the December 2016 deadline when the guidelines to apply for $2.7 billion in public funding will be final, supporters of both groundwater and surface water storage are simultaneously confident in the chances of their chosen project to receive funding and are dismissive of the benefits of competing projects.

For groundwater storage project advocates, it’s been a year-long effort to level what they believe is an uneven playing field for project consideration, said Kathryn Phillips, executive director of Sierra Club California.

“Our concern has always been that the rules would be skewed to favor those big dam projects,” Phillips said.

Phillips said regulations have improved, but the Sierra Club and other organizations are concerned there will not be enough time for agencies with smaller projects to pull applications together.

“The people that have wanted these dams have had the applications together since dinosaurs walked. They have been waiting to build these dams with or without a drought,” Phillips said.

Sierra Club California is on the record opposing both Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat, and Phillips said the organization doesn’t want to see any public money funding dam construction.

“Our preference is that those projects never get funded,” Phillips said. “They would do environmental damage, they won’t provide new water, and they are very expensive.”

Groundwater storage proponents also claim that surface water storage projects are not as cost feasible, and do not provide as much water storage per dollar.

Sustainable Conservation, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, said as much in a Nov. 18 letter to the commission.

Another letter sent from a coalition of environmental organizations cites a study by Stanford’s Water in the West program, which concluded that groundwater storage and recharge projects provide six times more storage than surface water storage for the same investment.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.