Metropolitan Re-Do on California WaterFix Vote Provides Necessary Funding to Move Project Forward

On July 10th, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (“Metropolitan”) Board of Directors authorized the district to fund up to 64.6% of the total project costs for California WaterFix. The project, which proposes to construct two tunnels deep underground to convey water under, rather than through, the Delta, would cost $16.7 billion—so Metropolitan’s commitment is $10.8 billion.

In a presentation at the July 10 board meeting, Metropolitan explains that full implementation of California WaterFix would improve State Water Project reliability, reduce reverse flows, improve water quality, and would provide for flexible operations, seismic resiliency, and climate change adaptation.

“California’s water delivery system is broken. After years of study, planning and environmental review, we finally have the solution. I am thrilled this project continues to move forward,” said Metropolitan Board Chairman Randy Record.

Eight additional agencies have also voted to support the project, including Santa Clara Valley Water District, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, Alameda County Water District, San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency, Mojave Water Agency, Desert Water Agency, Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency, and Coachella Valley Water District.

The Board took a similar vote in April. The second vote was taken in July to ensure the validity of the Board’s consideration of and vote on the matter following a notice of allegations that the district violated public notice laws when the Board took the earlier vote.

While the project now has sufficient financial support and, according the Southern California Water Committee, enjoys broad public support, it is facing opposition ranging from administrative questions about proper characterization, accounting, and expenditure of funds to opposition from environmental and fishing groups, local governments, and Delta agencies who fear that the project will increase exports and further degrade the Delta.

Because the lawsuits the opponents will inevitably file would delay project timeline, U.S. Representative Ken Calvert (R–CA, 42nd district) included a term in the draft FY 2019 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill that would prohibit litigation. The clause, which is tucked into the final pages of the bill states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Final Environmental Impact Report/Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan/California Water Fix and any resulting agency decision, record of decision, or similar determination shall hereafter not be subject to judicial review under any Federal or State law.”

Environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D–CA) and U.S. Representative John Garamendi (D–CA, 3rd district) have publicly voiced their opposition to such prohibition.

Representative Garamendi issued a statement saying, “Prohibiting federal or state judicial review of environmental documents on the twin tunnels sets a dangerous precedent that will have lasting and negative impacts on water laws across the nation. The federal government has a history of deferring to state water law and this provision is truly a radical assault on environmental laws by the Congress.”

In addition, the State Water Resources Control Water released framework for addressing “prolonged and precipitous declines of native aquatic species and the ecosystem they depend upon” in the Bay-Delta. Jeffrey Michael, Executive Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific, argues that the outflows prescribed in the State Board framework could reduce the yield from the tunnels by 1.1 MAF, compared to current assumptions. This reduction in water supply benefit would multiply the investment risk and cast question over whether WaterFix is still a viable deal for ratepayers.

 

Written by Marta L. Weismann