The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday provided guidance to staff on the scope of its proposed analysis of alternatives for fixing water supply reliability and ecosystem problems plaguing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta in Northern California.
To date, the Water Authority has not endorsed any specific project proposal for improving water conveyance through or around the Bay-Delta, which provides about 20 percent of the region’s water supplies. In recent years, the Bay-Delta has become less reliable as a supply source and its habitat has deteriorated, increasing concerns over ecosystem viability.
In 2012, the Water Authority Board adopted policy principles related to the Bay-Delta that call for actions and projects that meet the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and environmental restoration. The policies are designed to identify solutions that are cost-effective, sized correctly and can secure long-term funding sources.
The California Natural Resources Agency earlier this year released administrative drafts of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and a related set of draft environmental documents totaling approximately 25,000 pages. The BDCP’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. A public draft of the Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be released in October, and state officials are hoping to adopt a Record of Decision in April 2014.
Over the next few months, the Water Authority staff will review the state’s preferred “twin-tunnels” proposal, along with related environmental documents. It also will look at other strategies such as the “Portfolio Alternative,” advocated by the Natural Resources Defense Council. It relies on a suite of projects, including a scaled-down conveyance system, more water storage south of the Bay-Delta, levee improvements in the Bay-Delta and increased local supply development around the state. In addition, the Water Authority will evaluate a concept supported by the Delta Vision Foundation called “BDCP Plus,” which also takes a diversified approach to addressing Bay-Delta problems. All three options will be compared with the “no action” alternative to assess the costs and benefits to the Water Authority’s ratepayers.
In November, the Water Authority’s review process is expected to culminate in the Board’s consideration of an official comment letter on the EIR/EIS. After a comprehensive review of project alternatives, the Board may consider adopting a position on one or more proposals.
Over the past several years, water-use restrictions linked to the decline of native fish species in the Bay-Delta have curtailed water deliveries for two-thirds of California residents and Central Valley farms.
Significant questions about funding a solution remain unresolved. Under the BDCP decision-making process called the “Decision Tree,” the amount of water that would be exported through the twin tunnels will not be determined until after the project is built and placed into operation. The Water Authority is concerned that the project may not be sized optimally to reflect how much water can realistically be delivered, and that the state will not secure enforceable, long-term funding commitments to pay for the project.
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. 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 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 that the State Water Contractors, who will be expected to finance upgrades, demonstrate they have firm financial commitments and ability to pay for both the capital projects and maintaining the improvements.
“The stakes are too high for a misfire,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “We need a solution that is both affordable and science-based. A credible project will be supported by a wide range of stakeholders and by firm, enforceable financial commitments to pay for the improvements."
More information about the Bay-Delta is at www.sdcwa.org/bay-delta-conservation-plan.