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Why the delay on critical water storage projects? – Orange County Register - Energy And Water Development Corp

Why the delay on critical water storage projects? – Orange County Register

The heavy rains California has been experiencing over the holidays might dull us to the fundamental fact that our state needs to save more water. California receives 200 million acre feet of precipitation a year. We reserve 38 million for environmental purposes, use 31 million for agriculture, and devote 8 million for urban and industrial use. The rest flows out to the Pacific Ocean.

The solution that seemed obvious to more than two-thirds of Californians in 2014 was to build more water storage facilities. We passed Proposition 1, authorizing $7.12 billion in bonds, of which $2.7 was explicitly reserved for water storage projects. Not a single project has since been built, or even approved.

That will change in 2022. It’s the year set by the California Water Commission to hold final award hearings on the projects that have been allowed to progress over the last seven years.

The delay has been due to an insistence that full  environmental impact studies be provided, that no project be approved unless there was a 75% funding match from local sources, and that there be tangible public benefits, which the California Department of Water Resources defined as those benefiting “ecosystems, flood control protection, emergency response capabilities, and the overall effectiveness of our water infrastructure across the state.” The final catch-all should include more water for farming and urban use; but it’s indicative of the state government’s sense of priorities that neither was mentioned explicitly.

A study of the actual projects that have been allowed to proceed so far backs up the suspicion that Proposition 1 was sold as a way to get more usable water but is being applied in as abstemious a manner as possible.

The Water Commission has treated the $2.7 billion in Proposition 1 allocated to storage as a maximum, not a minimum. Only seven projects for storage are under consideration, while over 600 projects for other purposes have already been approved.  “Ecosystems in decline and disadvantaged communities that lack access to safe drinking water—problems made worse by the latest drought—lead the way in number of projects awarded,” the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California reported three years into the process.

As for the seven water storage projects, only one, the Sites Project in Colusa County, northwest of Sacramento, is directed primarily toward increasing water available for agriculture, industrial, and urban use. When it becomes operational in 2030, Sites will add 1.5 million to the current total of 69 million acre-feet of water available for uses other than environment in our state. The six other projects together will add only 385,600 acre-feet for agriculture, urban, or industrial use.

Starting dates are no sooner than the middle of 2024 for two projects (Harvest Water project in Sacramento, and Willow Springs Water Bank on the Kern-Los Angeles county line), and later dates for all the rest. All told, an increase of less than 5% in water storage available for farming, industrial, or urban use, will result.

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