Water Authority Board Affirms Support for Fixing Bay-Delta

Short Title
Board Affirms Support for Fixing Bay-Delta
Financing is key hurdle to solving problems affecting important water supply source

The San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors today affirmed its support for securing a long-term fix to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta. It also pledged to continue to advocate for a financing plan that ensures this vital project can be paid for and maintained.

In affirming its support for a Bay-Delta fix, the Water Authority Board endorsed a set of policy principles to guide staff in evaluating projects and actions relating to the Bay-Delta. In all, the Board approved 23 principles related to water supply reliability, ecosystem restoration, finance and funding, facility size, and access to and governance of State Water Project facilities. The full set of principles is available here www.sdcwa.org/sites/default/files/files/news-center/bay-delta-policy-principles-2012.pdf.

The Bay-Delta, a 1,000-square-mile network of islands and waterways at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers east of San Francisco Bay, is a key water supply source for California, including the 3.1 million residents and business community in San Diego County.

Water supplies from the Bay-Delta come to San Diego County via the State Water Project. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) purchases the water from the state Department of Water Resources under a water supply contract. This water has become increasingly unreliable in recent years as deteriorating ecological conditions have led to regulatory restrictions on pumping water supplies south from the Bay-Delta.

“We believe securing the dual goal of a healthy Bay-Delta ecosystem and a reliable water supply for California is critical for San Diego County, and for all of California,” Michael T. Hogan, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors, said.  “The Water Authority is a strong advocate of fixing the Bay-Delta and wants to see projects that solve its major problems can be paid for and maintained.”

“In Southern California, that means MWD’s member agencies must make firm, long-term financial commitments to pay their share of the State Water Project’s current and future fixed obligations,” Hogan said.  “Requiring real financial commitment will also provide the information needed to determine how much water MWD’s member agencies truly need and are willing – and firmly committed – to pay for.”

The components of a Bay-Delta solution would likely include a suite of environmental restoration projects and the construction of a new aqueduct or tunnel system to convey water supplies more reliably through or around the Bay-Delta with fewer impacts to fish species and ecosystems.  Cost estimates vary widely.  MWD estimates the cost will be between $8 billion and $13 billion. Other stakeholders estimate the total cost at significantly more than that amount.

MWD has stated its intention to pay one-quarter or more of the total cost, but its current rate structure does not give it the means to ensure recovery of these costs from its member agencies.  A January 7, 2012 report in the Ventura County Star (www.vcstar.com/news/2012/jan/07/fixing-the-delta-how-much-are-southern-water-to) discussed MWD’s financial challenges related to the Bay-Delta, noting the wallets of MWD’s 26 member agencies “surely will be tested by any Delta fix.”

Because the Water Authority is MWD’s largest customer, providing MWD with about 25 percent of its revenues, water ratepayers in the San Diego region could potentially be asked to pay hundreds of millions of dollars toward fixing the Bay-Delta.

“Considering the magnitude of the investment we may be asked to make, we need to make sure that what the state builds is “right-sized” to meet the state’s future water supply needs and is affordable,” Hogan said. “The cost of water in Southern California has increased dramatically over the past five years, and we simply cannot afford to build a project that other MWD member agencies walk away from when the bill comes.”

The Board developed and approved the policy principles following several workshops in late 2011 that included presentations by various Bay-Delta stakeholders, including representatives from MWD, the State and Federal Water Contractors Authority, the Delta Protection Commission, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Delta Stewardship Council, and several Bay-Delta communities.

In 2011, water supplies from the Bay-Delta supplied by MWD via its State Water Project water supply contract accounted for about 16 percent of the San Diego region’s water supply needs.

For more information on the State Water Project and the Bay-Delta, visit www.sdcwa.org/state-water-project.