California Water Commission hears an update on the key activities of the State Water Project

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At the August 20th meeting of the California Water Commission, Deputy Director of the State Water Project Carl Torgersen updated the Commission on the some of the key activities of the SWP, including drought operations, administrative issues, and the status of several construction projects.

Note: This is part one of three-part coverage from the California Water Commission coming up this week.  On Wednesday, the presentation on the effects of water-forest management in the upper watershed on water supply, and later this week, Dr. Peter Gleick presents the results of the Pacific Institute's latest report, The Untapped Potential of California's Water Supply​​.

Water storage conditions

TorgersenThe Department of Water Resources (DWR) is currently tracking for 1 MAF storage in Oroville as called for in the Drought Operations Plan. The only releases for export is for transfer of water that was held back before the transfer window opened in July, said Mr. Torgersen.

DWR announced a 5% allocation in June for the state contractors, but that was not to be taken until September 1st. “That was really a hedge against what San Luis would look like,” he said. “San Luis is just at 20% of capacity right now, a little over 400,000 acre-feet. Typically this would be the time we would see a low point at San Luis. What we think may be different this year is that Reclamation may still be making some withdrawals into September.”

Metropolitan Water District is drawing on their flex storage, which is a provision in their contract that allows them to take about 160,000 acre-feet out of Castaic and up to 60,000 acre-feet out of Lake Perris, he said.

As far as moving into 2015, I’m working with Deputy Director Gary Bardini to integrate SWP operations into an overall drought plan,” Mr. Torgersen said.

Update on SWP contract extensions

In May of 2013, the process was begin with the state water contractors to negotiate an extension of the existing water supply contracts, most of which are set to expire in 2035. In June, Agreements in Principle were reached in which the contracts will be extended to 2085, a process defined for contractor’s participation in financial policy discussions with DWR, and changes made to the billing process.

The billing process for the SWP is extremely fair, but it’s extremely complex,” Mr. Torgersen said. “So we took some steps to simplify it somewhat, but it’s not simple by any stretch, even with these adjustments.”

The Agreements in Principles have been sent to the various contractors’ board of directors and we are awaiting approval, he noted. “In the interim, we’re drafting some contract amendment language and the CEQA process is being developed at this point,” he said. “We anticipate these amendments being signed somewhere in 2017, although it really is dependent on a lot of variables.”

During the discussion period, Commissioner Delfino asked for clarification about what the agreement was for participation by the contractors in financial policy discussions.

Several things were negotiated; one was the formal establishment of a committee made up of five contractor representatives and five DWR managers that would discuss financial policy issues,” responded Mr. Torgersen. “Not necessarily issues around the numbers on the bill, but just some proposals for modifying how things are billed, the processes around the timing associated with issuing bills, and perhaps updating them. That committee would be charged with making recommendations to the director for his or her approval. It does not take away the director’s authority or abrogate it at all. I was adamant about that during the negotiations … the director has to have the final say on everything. So it’s a forum for the contractors and the Department to look at things that aren’t working well with respect to billing and be able to make some recommended changes. It has nothing to do with water policy or anything along that line. It’s very restrictive. We have a charter that is on the website that describes the functionality of the committee.” He noted that the committee will not stand up until the contract extensions are signed.

Can you explain if there’s a connection between the finalization of the contract extension and the ability of the contractors to pay for the BDCP?” asked Commissioner Delfino. “What’s the relationship between the two?

The contract extension process that we just concluded did not include anything dealing with BDCP,” said Mr. Torgersen. “We were pretty specific to state that we would be doing this regardless. The main driver was that we can’t capitalize beyond 2035, and that puts us at 20 years now, and the longer we go, the more expensive it gets to bond for anything.”

There will be another public negotiation session beginning we anticipate in December that will be discussing the BDCP cost sharing amongst the State Water Contractors,” said Mr. Torgersen.

Update on labor

Mr. Torgersen began by thanking the Commission for their support in resolving the labor issues with the State Water Project personnel. “Last July we were able to negotiate a fairly significant raise for about 800 of our trades and craft staff,” he said. “Since then, we have had a very high degree of success in recruitment and retention. We’ve been able to fill in less than a year 113 vacancies – prior to 2013, we’d be lucky to fill 13. In particular, we’ve been able to hire water and power dispatchers; we were 62% below the median wge for our water and power dispatchers, so we’ve made that up and we’ve been able to reach full staff in our project operations center.”

In July, DWR held a file-in-person day for the apprenticeship program and received over 1500 applications, so that’s been very successful, he said.

The increase in personnel has reduced overtime by about 60%, he said. “In 2013, we were averaging around 24,000 hours a month, and now we’re down to about 10,000, so a lot of success there.”

East Branch Extension

Mr. Torgersen gave a detailed presentation on the second phase of the East Branch Extension which the Commission members will be touring in September.

The East Branch Extension is a project begun by DWR in 1996 to extend the California Aqueduct to Cherry Valley to supply the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency.  Phase one facilities were completed in 2003. Phase two facilities include 6 miles of large diameter pipeline, a new reservoir and pump station, and enlargement of the existing Crafton Hills facility.  The new facilities will increase the efficiency of the system by allowing San Bernardino to reduce on-peak pumping and allow San Gorgonio to be able to more efficiently use their spreading grounds, said Mr. Torgersen. The project is expected to be completed in 2016.

EBX Slide 1The Citrus Pump Station and Reservoir is a 560 acre-foot storage reservoir with a 200 cfs pumping station. The water will arrive from Devil Canyon through a gravity pipeline and discharge into the reservoir. The end of the pipeline has stubs that are flanged for potential future turbine installation for small hydro, he said, noting that it wasn’t part of the original concept, but was added as because it does present an opportunity for renewable energy. He noted that the reservoir is located in a citrus grove, and as part of the acquisition agreement for the property, DWR is to maintain the existing citrus trees around the facility.

EBX Slide 2The pump station will pump through the Mantone pipeline up to the Crafton Hills pump station. The Crafton Hills reservoir, originally approximately 85 acre-feet is being expanded to about 220 acre-feet. A bypass has been built around the dam to keep the system in operation during this construction.

EBX Slide 3Lastly, the Crafton Hills pump station is being enlarged to increase the capacity of the system from 60 to 135 cfs; this will ultimately deliver water to San Gorgonio for spreading primarily, he said.

Other construction projects

River outlet valves at Oroville being refurbished: DWR began a project at the beginning of the year to refurbish the river outlet valves and get them in operation as a backstop against severely dry conditions, as well as manage temperature as the reservoir is drawn down. The job is close to completion and they will be operating them soon for temperature control in the Feather River. Mr. Torgersen said it was a difficult job and he had praise for all who worked on it. “It’s cramped quarters and 50 year old equipment,” he said. “We actually removed the valves, shipped them to the Bay Area, had them refurbished, and put them back on. It sounds easy but it was not.”

Fire protection system modernization: After the Thermalito fire, DWR embarked on an effort to review the fire protection of all the SWP facilities. “Fire marshal representatives were part of a team that assessed every facility that we have,” he said. “I want to stress that everything we have is in compliance, but there is room for improvement as far as modernizing some of the systems.” A consultant was engaged to develop a report and a plan to modernize all of our fire protection systems up and down the project, with the first facility to be upgraded being the Hyatt facility beginning in January of 2015.

Thermalito Update: Thermalito Pumping Generating Plant, destroyed in a fire on Thanksgiving Day in 2012, is currently being restored and rebuilt. “It will take another year and a half until we recommission Thermalito,” he said.

Lake Perris: The contract has been signed for seismic remediation for the dam at Lake Perris. The contract for about $75 million is the largest since the Oroville contract, Mr. Torgersen noted. It will take several years to complete the work.

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