An update on potential new water storage projects, part 3: Preliminary results of California water storage projects survey

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The CalFed surface storage investigations were looking primarily at large reservoirs, but there are substantially more options for smaller, regional reservoirs that could add to local water supply reliability, but provide statewide benefits as well.  At the request of the Delta Stewardship Council, the California Water Commission teamed up with the Association of California Water Agencies to survey water agencies across the state about potential regional and local storage projects.  In continuing coverage of the April Delta Stewardship Council meeting, Sue Sims, Executive Director of the California Water Commission, and Danielle Blacet, Special Projects Manager with ACWA, updated the Council on the preliminary survey results.

Sue Sims, Executive Director of the California Water Commission

Sue Sims began by saying that the value of this project is very clear. “The state water action plan which was put out earlier this year has as one of its ten goals to increase storage capacity in California,” she said. “The bottom line is that we need to expand our state’s storage capacity, whether surface or groundwater, whether big or small. And as if we needed any reminder that we needed to do that, this year punctuated the need to look seriously at things that perhaps had not been part of the general conversation.”

DSC2 SimmsThe California Water Commission was reconstituted by the 2009 legislation, with one of the primary reasons being to look at the public benefits of water projects for purposes of public funding and public financing and to look at statewide operational improvements, not just a single type of project, she said. “So the Commission has been working over the last couple of years to consider what a competitive program would look like, knowing that the dollar amounts and some of the criteria in a final bond may actually change.”

You asked us to partner with you and some other agencies and I think it was a great idea, because it gives us an opportunity to capture information based on the observed successes that we have seen with local projects that have actually planned, permitted, and built projects, and to have the discussion of how we add value to a system and how we increase collaboration between state agencies and between local and regional agencies with the big projects that are all on the tip of our tongues as well as with some that we may not be familiar with at this point,” said Ms. Sims.

Throughout this process, my Commission members have been very clear that their interest is to make sound public investments that have statewide benefits and of course the requirement that ecosystem benefits that are supported with public funds benefit the Delta and its tributaries, so that’s been a fundamental premise,” she said.

The survey will lead to the development of an inventory of projects and the possible regional, local, and statewide benefits of each, she said.

In March, the Commission held a workshop for small water systems in San Diego,” said Ms. Sims. “We went into that thinking that this is a drought workshop and that we were going to hear what happens during a drought. Well, interestingly enough, while we did hear some of that, mostly what we heard is that these are challenges and opportunities, regardless of the water year type, and you Commission, you State, ought to be looking at how you can leverage involvement in these smaller projects, not only to help increase our local and regional water quality and our water supply reliability, but the benefits that they would have statewide.”

Next month, we are headed up to Auburn, we are going to meet with about a hundred representatives working with the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and a couple of other organizations,” she said. “I suspect we will hear much of the same kind of thing, that small investments, leveraged and planned properly, not only improve water supply reliability for small communities, but for the region and for the water quality and water supply in the Sacramento River and other rivers, Folsom, the Delta and of course, statewide, so that’s going to be a very interesting conversation.”

The Commission will develop the inventory and bring it back in June, she said. Next steps could include prioritizing and sharing the information with other agencies, she said. “Our Commission is not stepping away from potential investments in these bigger storage projects, but I think we see a benefit to looking at the full universe and with this information for the first time, we will have a much better sense of what’s out there, where strategic investments can be made with public dollars, and where state agencies can collectively work to improve water supply reliability and ecosystem benefits throughout the state.”

So I think I will leave it at that …

Danielle Blacet, Special Projects Manager for the Association of California Water Agencies

Danielle Blacet began by saying that it’s critical to get an inventory about these opportunities, especially the near term ones that will help the water agencies and the state create sustainable, reliable water supplies. She said they used the recently adopted recommendation to formulate the survey and develop the questions, but at the same time, it was an opportunity to gather additional information.

DSC2 BlacetOur goal was to compile a comprehensive inventory for local and regional projects,” she said, noting that they wanted to capture all storage projects, including those described in other processes and on other lists. “So we said, if you have a project, large or small, statewide or local benefit, please go ahead and fill it out because we really feel strongly that our agencies have such a wealth of information about the things they are working on and the opportunities that exist on a local level and things that can provide benefits.”

The survey was launched on February 27th, with the initial deadline extended to April 11. Twenty-five counties were represented in the responses that we received, Ms. Blacet said. They received information on groundwater projects, operational efficiency improvements, surface storage reservoirs, water quality improvements, and water transfers. She noted that 14 of the projects were surface storage reservoirs, and 11 were conjunctive use and groundwater storage projects.

Item_9_California_Water_Projects_Survey_Presentation_Danielle_Blacet_Presentation_Page_05She presented a slide showing the counties which had responded, noting that they would be doing additional outreach at the spring ACWA conference to generate more responses.

She then gave a sampling of some of the water storage projects they had received information on.

  • Magalia Dam Rehabilitation and Enlargement Project: This project of the Paradise Irrigation District would construct a new dam to replace an old dam built in 1918 that is restricted due to safety concerns. It would increase surface water supply by approximately 5000 acre-feet at an estimated cost of $80 million.
  • Stirling Reservoir: Another reservoir that Paradise Irrigation District is looking at with a number of partners in that area including PG&E and Sierra Pacific is the Stirling Reservoir, a 380,000 acre-foot reservoir that would be off-stream of the Feather River. Initial cost estimate is $750 million.
  • Raise Lower Bear Reservoir: The Upper Mokelumne River Water Authority in Amador County is considering a project to raise the lower Bear Reservoir that would increase the storage capacity by 26,000 acre-feet, providing additional surface storage, as well as water for conjunctive use and transfers. Preliminary estimate is $50 million.
  • Garden Bar Reservoir: The South Sutter Water District is considering the construction and operation of a rock-fill dam that would create 310,000 acre-feet and would also provide hydroelectric power facility and the opportunity for water transfers at cost of $500 million.
  • South Fork Willow Creek Detention Basin: This project of the Colusa Basin Drainage District would capture high flow runoff from South Fork Willow Creek that would help with groundwater recharge and groundwater storage, as well as habitat. Last estimate was $28 million.
  • Hemet-San Jacinto Local Groundwater Bank: This Eastern Municipal Water District project would provide 60,000 to 90,000 acre-feet of groundwater storage at a cost of $110 to $150 million. The project is intended primarily for water supply reliability during dry years when MWD implements supply reductions but would also provide emergency supplies and could include a conjunctive use component.
  • Regional Interconnection Project: This project submitted by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency would build two interconnections between the Monte Vista Water District and Ontario and Chino water systems that would facilitate transfers, groundwater storage, and other multiple benefit projects at a cost of $920,000.
  • Weymouth Oxidation Retrofit: A sample water quality improvement project from the Metropolitan Water District which would provide ozone disinfection capability at the water treatment plant in LaVerne to satisfy state and federal drinking water requirements. This project would provide operational flexibility to meet treatment challenges resulting from periodic water supply events such as drought or other source‐water limitations.

Councilman Phil Isenberg asks if they are giving thought to the statewide values or goals that should be in a project if the state is asked either directly or through bonds indirectly to contribute money to the financing?

Sue Sims responds that the California Water Commission has been working to quantify and value public benefits of water storage projects. There are five types of public benefits with a clear emphasis on ecosystem benefits. “I think we are headed in that direction,” she said. “I think we have a pretty good handle on how and where we might want to value the public benefit approximate to the project, downstream benefits, and to other parts of the state. Those are questions the Commission has been wrestling with. With ecosystems, it’s very hard, unlike flood control and recreation, where it’s a little bit easier to see what a public benefit would be and how much state money might be valued to put the investment in.” She noted that the Commission is still working on this. “I think its very clear to the nine members of the water commission that they can help be part of the solution in identifying, pretty much for the first time for California, how we would want to quantify and measure those benefits.”

Ms. Blacet said that they do have other data collection efforts that will inform short and long-term infrastructure projects. The Drought Action Group has been focusing on identifying impacted areas along with short‐ and long‐term alternatives/solutions, and will produce a report outlining needed actions for combating this and future droughts, and will produce a report for the Brown Administration around the end of May, she said. In previous efforts, they identified recharge and groundwater banking opportunities that may exist in a survey that was more focused on impediments towards additional recharge, but she noted that it serves the same purpose in that it helps to figure out where the opportunities lie.

Item_9_California_Water_Projects_Survey_Presentation_Danielle_Blacet_Presentation_Page_11For next steps, Ms. Blacet said that they’d be working with the Water Commission to distill the survey results into a readable format. “The survey does indicate that multiple local and regional projects could be implemented in the next five to ten years, and this survey, as well as our Drought Action Group, data collection efforts and others indicate that there’s an urgent and extensive need for water infrastructure investments. … We’re really hoping to get more results. We aren’t satisfied with only 60, so we’re going to definitely push at our spring conference and at our various meetings … we want to get as much data as we can.”

That’s my presentation …

For more information …

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