Daunting obstacles remain for Gov. Brown’s ‘WaterFix’

Delta TunnelsJust six weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown’s hopes for a huge, difficult legacy project to solidify California’s statewide water distribution system – one funded by water districts, not directly by taxpayers – appeared in bad shape.

Years of lobbying for what the Brown administration dubbed the WaterFix project had produced more indifference and outright opposition than support. The $16.7 billion plan would build two 35-mile-long, 40-foot-high tunnels to take water south from the Sacramento River to the State Water Project pumps in the town of Tracy. The governor argued that this would sharply reduce the intermittent heavy pumping that played havoc with endangered species in the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and would firm up supplies both for Central Valley farmers and the 20 million-plus residents of Southern California.

But in September, the board of the Westlands Water District – which serves 600,000 acres of farmland in King and Fresno counties and is the largest U.S. agricultural district – voted 7-1 against providing about $3 billion for the project. Westlands officials trashed claims made for WaterFix, questioning whether it would actually stabilize the Delta ecosystem and predicting cost overruns.

In November, the Trump administration announced that the federal government would not provide any financial assistance to get the project built. While the Interior Department statement was not unexpected, it contributed to the sense the WaterFix proposal was foundering. By February, Brown administration officials had put the word out they would accept building only one tunnel under the delta and adding a second later.

MWD backed scaled-back project, then changed mind

The death of the original plan appeared confirmed on April 2 when officials with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – the giant, politically powerful water wholesaler serving 19 million people – issued a memo expressing support for the one-tunnel option. The rationale: a lack of a consensus for the two-tunnel plan among the water districts south of Sacramento that would need to pay for the project.

But after intense lobbying by the Brown administration, on April 10, the MWD board voted by a 3-to-2 margin to endorse the two-tunnels project and to agree to pay for about two-thirds of the tab – about $10.8 billion. The weighted vote, based on the size of individual agencies, came over the objections of the MWD board’s single largest member, the San Diego County Water Authority.

Momentum continued to build last Wednesday when the board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District – the biggest water agency in Silicon Valley – voted 4-3 to commit its 2 million ratepayers to pay up to $650 million for the project, or nearly 4 percent of the total tab. Santa Clara officials had previously narrowly opposed providing funding.

On Thursday, Brown hailed the decision in a speech to a conference of the Association of California Water Agencies in Sacramento. But the governor also warned that the project still had big obstacles that went beyond getting more water districts to agree to share construction costs. He noted that state and federal regulators still had yet to issue required permits.

On this front, WaterFix may face more skepticism in Brown’s backyard than in Washington. As CalWatchdog reported last year, the Trump administration gave a key senior Interior Department post to Colorado lawyer David Bernhardt, a veteran of California water wars and a critic of the federal government’s traditionally high-profile role in land-use decisions in Western states.

Meanwhile, the California Water Resources Control Board has sided with environmentalists in a long list of previous decisions. In filings with the state board, Restore the Delta and several other environmental groups have challenged the governor’s project on its central claim: that it improves the health of the Delta ecosystem.

Even if the state and federal permits are granted, the tunnels plan still faces hurdles. The Bay Area News Group reportedlast week that more than two dozen state and federal lawsuits had been filed against the project.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

$17 billion Delta water tunnels project faces critical MWD vote

After 11 years of planning, a massive tunnels project touted as a solution to the state’s vulnerable water supply faces its biggest test  Tuesday.

The 38-member board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — the largest supplier of treated water in the United States delivering water to agencies serving 19 million people — is scheduled to vote on the $17 billion California WaterFix.

Metropolitan’s staff has waged a campaign in favor of the project for years and is recommending its board ratify the environmental review and also pay 26 percent of the cost, amounting to $4.3 billion. MWD’s wholesale water rates charged to 26 Southern California retail water districts and cities would rise 4.5 percent annually during the 18-year construction period, but the agency says WaterFix only accounts for 1 percent of the increase, with inflation accounting for the rest.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Department of Water Resources say the project will make water supplies more reliable, stabilize water flow and protect endangered fish species. The project would include installing three intakes north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and building two, 35-mile concrete diversion tunnels that would move water more efficiently into the State Water Project for cities and the federal Central Valley Project used by farmers. …

Read the full article from the Press-Enterprise

Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels would triple water rates

Delta TunnelsGov. Jerry Brown’s $17 billion California Delta WaterFix tunnels are in trouble over a threat to triple water costs and a federal probe of $84.8 million in illegal payments.

The board of the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, America’s largest water supplier, voted 7 to 1 on September 19 to pull out their $4.5 billion, 26 percent participation in the $17 billion WaterFix, which planned to build two 40-foot wide tunnels stretching for 35 miles to protect fish and divert water from the Sacramento River to the California aqueducts that service the San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California cities.

The move followed a July 17 presentation by Goldman Sachs to the Westlands Water District titled, “California WaterFix Financing Strategies.” Goldman apparently estimated that to finance the project, the average cost of water exports from the Delta could rise by $260 per acre foot by 2033. That is two to three times the price paid to the Bureau of Reclamation this year.

The U.S. Department of Interior Inspector General also issued an audit that found that during the Obama administration, federal Bureau of Reclamation financial assistance agreements with the State of California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) did not “fully disclose to Congress and other stakeholders the $84.8 million cost of its participation in the BDCP efforts, including its subsidizing of the Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) water contractors’ share of BDCP costs.”

The Inspector General also found the Bureau of Reclamation was never reimbursed for $50 million of advanced payments and improperly paid $34.8 million of the contractors’ costs through June 30, 2016. The IG stated that the Bureau of Reclamation submitted “inaccurate annual Calfed Bay-Delta certified financial reports” and “the actions it took to fund BDCP planning costs were neither transparent nor consistent with the ‘beneficiaries pay’ principle underlying Reclamation Law.”

The IG referred the matter to the “Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget for resolution,” a step that may lead to a U.S. Justice Department civil or criminal referral.

The Associated Press obtained documents on September 18 that reveal that the legal language governing California’s biggest water project in half a century has been tweaked so that the tunnels are now just an “update,” rather than a new project. That way every one of the 29 water districts that receive water from the existing California State Water Project will be jointly responsible to pay for the tunnels.

A Harris Farms’ Executive Vice President and Westlands board member told AP that there is no guarantee that the project will consistently increase future water supplies and that “obligating hundreds of family farms” to pay for the tunnels doesn’t make economic sense.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District will vote on continuing as a $4 billion WaterFix investor, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District will also vote on its $2 billion participation. It is estimated that the project will cost residential water users about $3 to $4 a month. But that assumes an on-time completion, and that the project performs as advertised.

This article was originally published by Brietbart.com/california