The public release of thousands of pages of documents about fixing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta underscores the need for cost-effective and attainable solutions, the San Diego County Water Authority said Monday. About 20 percent of the San Diego region’s water supplies flow through the Bay-Delta, the hub of the state’s water supply system which has become a less reliable water source in recent years as the ecosystem has deteriorated.
The Water Authority has consistently supported the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and environmental restoration in the Bay-Delta, but it has not endorsed any specific project proposal to date. Instead, the Water Authority is undertaking a comprehensive review of the four main options for addressing the complex problems plaguing the Bay-Delta, while raising tough questions about the state’s financing plan for a project that may cost up to $25 billion.
"The Water Authority believes any fixes should be right-sized to meet the real demands for water from the Bay-Delta, and that the state should require firm, long-term financial commitments from those who have said they will pay for the project,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “To date, no such financial commitments have been made.”
Since July 2011, the Water Authority’s Board has addressed Bay-Delta issues at 25 meetings and heard 32 presentations on related topics. Another special Board meeting about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, or BDCP, is set for 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 9.
In 2012, the Board adopted policy principles related to Bay-Delta solutions that call for actions and projects that provide regulatory certainty for water agencies, allocate costs to stakeholders in proportion to benefits received and support development of local water resources.
The Water Authority will incorporate the newly released documents into its review process before providing official comments on the Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report in the spring. The state’s formal public comment period on the draft BDCP and a related set of draft environmental documents totaling approximately 25,000 pages runs Dec. 13, 2013, through April 14, 2014. The documents can be found at baydeltaconservationplan.com/PublicReview.aspx or by following links on the Water Authority’s website at www.sdcwa.org/bay-delta-conservation-plan. On Monday, the state announced that one of its 12 “open house” public meetings about the BDCP will be in San Diego, from 3 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the San Diego Convention Center, 111 W. Harbor Dr.
Earlier this year, the California Natural Resources Agency released administrative drafts of the Bay-Delta plan and related documents. The state’s preferred option proposes three new water intakes on the Sacramento River and two large-diameter tunnels to carry up to 9,000 cubic feet of water per second under the Bay-Delta, along with habitat restoration. That plan is reported to cost approximately $25 billion over 50 years.
The Water Authority is reviewing the state’s preferred “twin-tunnels” proposal, along with strategies known as “BDCP Plus” and the “Portfolio Alternative.” Those approaches rely on different combinations of projects, such as a scaled-down water conveyance system, more water storage south of the Bay-Delta, levee improvements in the Bay-Delta and increased local supply development around the state. Those options are being compared with the “no action” alternative to assess the costs and benefits to the Water Authority’s ratepayers. After a detailed assessment of project alternatives, the Board may consider adopting a position on one or more proposals.
The Water Authority is the largest of 26 member agencies of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. MWD, in turn, is the largest State Water Contractor, and has pledged to pay 25 percent or more of the total project’s cost. However, MWD’s member agencies are implementing aggressive plans to reduce purchases of water from MWD by developing their own local water supplies and increasing conservation. That raises questions about the proper size of the Bay-Delta project. In addition, since MWD derives more than 80 percent of all its revenues from water sales, a decreasing sales base over the long term could force some MWD member agencies to shoulder more of the cost of Bay-Delta upgrades.
The Water Authority has called for MWD member agencies to provide firm financial commitments to demonstrate their need for the project and pay their fair share of MWD’s fixed costs related to the Bay-Delta, but they have refused to do so. The Water Authority also has advocated for the federal and state water contractors – groups that will be expected to finance upgrades – to demonstrate they have firm financial commitments and ability to pay for both the capital projects and maintaining the improvements.
More information about the Bay-Delta is at www.sdcwa.org/bay-delta-conservation-plan.