Rules Set for Prop. 1 Funding for New Water Storage Projects
A critical aspect of California’s drive to create new water storage is in place after the California Water Commission approved regulations governing how those potential storage projects could receive public funding under Prop. 1.
The Dec. 14 decision potentially paves the way for new surface water projects, such as Sites Reservoir, and expansion of Los Vaqueros reservoir in Contra Costa County.
Approved by voters in November 2014, Prop. 1 is a $7.5 billion water bond that included $2.7 billion for investments in water storage projects and designated the Water Commission as the agency responsible for funding the public and ecosystem benefits portion of the projects.
The Commission’s development of regulations for gauging the right amount of public funding for storage projects navigated a winding course of refining the definition of public benefits, adaptive management, environmental mitigation/compliance and establishing an appropriate scoring process to judge applications.
“There was a lot of discussion of how we should use climate change,” said David Gutierrez, chief of the Department of Water Resources’ Division of Safety of Dams. “Some said we need more precision and others said less because it’s too much a burden on the applicants.”
As adopted, the regulations state that applicants for funding “shall describe how extreme levels of climate change could affect the public physical benefits claimed [and] how operations of the proposed project could be adapted to sustain public physical benefits claimed.”
Prior to the vote, Gutierrez told commissioners that “we are at a point where we won’t reach consensus or compromise” but that “we did promise a common understanding of the issues.” Adding that, “California needs to continue solving the major water management issues,” including increasing its storage capacity to address factors such as population increase and climate change.
Environmentalists reminded commissioners that allocating funds for the benefit of private interests is impermissible under Prop. 1. “The regulations by and large move in the right direction [but] the existing mitigation and compliance regulations are very problematic,” said Doug Obegi, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Advocates of new storage projects said the Commission has made good progress on streamlining that process though there remains concern about the burden placed on applicants for small storage projects.
Commissioner David Orth said that applicants for storage project funding “need to show us real water not paper water benefits,” and predicted that “the things we are struggling with will become clear as the projects come before us.”