State approves $2.7 billion for water storage projects

A state commission on Tuesday approved $2.7 billion in funding for a variety of water storage projects across California, but the money doesn’t guarantee that any of them will be built.

The California Water Commission action was part of a complicated new process designed to depoliticize awards of state water bond funding by judging projects according to stringent guidelines that some of the biggest projects had trouble meeting.

High-profile projects such as the Temperance Flat dam proposal on the upper San Joaquin River lost out, winning a fraction of what backers wanted and throwing the project’s future into doubt.

Proponents of another big dam project, the Sites Reservoir in Northern California, walked away with less than a fifth of what they will need to construct an off-stream reservoir that would store water piped from the Sacramento River.

“We do not have the money lined up to do this project,” Jim Watson, general manager of the Sites Project Authority, told commissioners.


Two smaller Bay Area dam projects fared better. The Santa Clara Valley Water District was awarded half of what it needs to expand a small reservoir on Pacheco Creek.

The Contra Costa Water District also won half of the cost of raising a dam and expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County.

The commission spread storage money beyond traditional reservoir projects.

In Southern California, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency was awarded $207 million to expand the Chino Basin water recycling program and reduce the region’s use of imported supplies from Northern California.

Two groundwater storage projects in Kern County — the Kern Fan Groundwater Storage Project and the Willow Springs Water Bank — also won funding.

In the Sacramento region, bond money was earmarked for the South County Agricultural Program to help pay for a project to use recycled wastewater to irrigate cropland.

Still, under conditions of the Proposition 1 bond, the eight funded projects can’t actually collect most of their state money until they have obtained environmental permits and contracts for additional funding.

If they fail to meet those requirements by 2022, they will lose their award.

The funding process was a departure from the traditional distribution of storage money, which has tended to reward recipients with the most political muscle.

Proposition 1 mandates that the state in most cases can pay for no more than half of a storage project’s total cost.

And the state money can be used to underwrite only a project’s public benefits, such as recreation, flood control and ecosystem improvements.

Moreover, half of the state share has to pay for ecosystem improvements in the watershed of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the environmentally troubled center of California’s water delivery system.

Although many of the commissioners wanted to give more money to the Sites and Temperance Flat proposals, they couldn’t after the state Fish and Wildlife Department found the projects would not improve conditions for imperiled salmon runs on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

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