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Local water officials discuss 50-year extension of State Water Project contract

FILE - In this July 28, 2014 file photo, lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam at the Lak
Lake Mead near Hoover Dam in Arizona, pictured in 2014. The Lake Mead Basin, which captures water from the Colorado River, was only 38% full as of June 2018. Such shortages make water imported through the State Water Project critical to Southern California water agencies.
(John Locher / AP)

Water officials discussed Monday extending the supply contract for the State Water Project, a program that provides water for 25 million people and irrigates more than 750,000 acres of California farmland, for a 50-year period.

Members of the Board of Directors for Foothill Municipal Water District — which distributes water imported from Metropolitan Water District to customers of the La Cañada Irrigation District, Valley Water Co. and the Crescenta Valley and Mesa Crest water districts, among others — considered the matter in a regular board meeting.

FMWD Board President and Metropolitan Water District Director Rich Atwater assured fellow members a renewal is necessary so bonds can be issued into the future to fund maintenance and building projects associated with the program.

Without an extension, he said, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) won’t be able to issue revenue bonds beyond the current contract period, which ends in 2035.

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“For the last five to 10 years, DWR and state contractors have been realizing this was something they need to renew, to extend out,” he said. “Nobody expects the State Water Project to go away — clearly you need to roll that over.”

Extending the contract would also give agencies more time to pay for bonds that have already been issued, which would otherwise come due in 2035 and likely result in steep rate increases to ratepayers, Atwater told board members.

FMWD General Manager Nina Jazmadarian said the amount of water the agency receives through the State Water Project varies widely depending on need, from none in 2014 to 75% last year. For the last three years, FMWD has annually imported an average of nearly 8,000 acre-feet (about 2.6 billion gallons) through the program.

The State Water Project could become more vital as other major sources of water, such as the Colorado River, reach historic lows. As of June 25, the Lake Mead reservoir, a basin that captures water from the Colorado, was only 38% full.

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Officials assured talk of extending the supply contract was in no way related to the California WaterFix project, an effort to build underground tunnels that would transport Sacramento River water 35 miles under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms and cities to the south, including Southern California.

The $16.7-billion plan (to which MWD board members committed $11 billion in July) is currently being challenged by environmentalist groups in a “Restore the Delta” campaign. Opponents say depleting the Delta of its river water would further degrade an already delicate ecosystem.

“It’s gotten a lot of press play,” Atwater said Monday. “It’s a big controversy.”

If approved, the State Water Project Supply Contract would be extended until 2085.

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine


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