Public comment period closes on October 3rd; Another round of public comment expected
At the California Water Commission’s September 16th meeting, the Commission held a public hearing on the draft regulations for the Water Storage Investment Program. The draft regulations were released on September 2nd for a 30-day public comment period. The draft regulations define the requirements for the potential storage projects, what information project applicants must submit, how the public benefits will be calculated, and how the applications will evaluated for the $2.7 billion funding available from Proposition 1.
TIMELINE FOR THE WATER STORAGE INVESTMENT PROGRAM
Acting Executive Director Rachel Ballanti updated the commissioners on the timeline for completion of the regulations.
After the August 29th California Water Commission, staff prepared the formal notice to begin the public comment period on the revised regulations. The formal comment period on the revised regulations and the additional documents officially began on Friday, September 2nd and will close on at 5pm on Monday, October 3.
On September 9th, the climate change modeling data for the Water Storage Investment Program was made available to the public. That data can be either downloaded from the Commission’s website, or a DVD requested.
All the documents are posted and available on the website and all comments will be posted as they are received. The public comment period on all the documents and data is currently open until 5pm on Monday, October 3.
Acting Executive Director Rachel Ballanti then reviewed the proposed timeline for finishing the regulations. After the public comment period closes on October 3rd, staff will likely develop proposed changes to the regulations, and will be prepared to present those proposed changes at the October 18th meeting.
“The October 18th meeting will be one of the most significant on these draft regulations,” she said. “Staff will be seeking on any and all of the outstanding issues related to the regulations. We will be presenting concepts rather than draft language, similar to what was presented in the July and August meetings, and we would expect issue-specific votes on what to incorporate into the regulations.”
Following the October 18th meeting, staff will work on revising the draft regulation based on results of the meeting, with a revised draft of the regulation language available to the Commission and the public anticipated on November 7th.
“On the November 15th Commission meeting, we would ask the Commission for any final direction to ensure staff’s edits of the regulation were consistent with your direction given on October 18th,” Ms. Ballanti said. “We would ask for direction to begin one more 15-day official comment period. Following that public comment period, if there are no additional changes, the Commission can adopt the regulation as final on December 14 of this year.”
THE LAYOUT OF THE REGULATION
The Commission then went through and listen to public comment on the regulation article by article. Dave Gutierrez from the Department of Water Resources first briefly reviewed each article before hearing comments from the public.
Article 1 consists of an introduction and the definitions used in the regulation.
Article 2 describes the information that shall be included in the application, including how the applicant quantifies the public benefits and the information necessary for the Commission to make an evaluation of the application and supporting information. The required elements to be submitted are substantial and include an executive summary, project name and details, project costs, project schedule, and a preliminary operations plan; applicants will also be required to submit documentation of claimed benefits as well as explanations of how the project improves operation of the state’s water system, improves reliability, and provides the required ecosystem and/or water quality benefits. Applicants will also be required to analyze future conditions with and without the project, provide an estimate of monetization of physical benefits, include a cost allocation to beneficiaries, and identify sources of uncertainty.
“What article 2 is all about is what does the applicant actually have to provide the Commission in order for us to do our work and make those evaluations of the various projects,” said Mr. Gutierrez. “You should think of article 2 working in concert with article 3 in the sense that Article 2 is going to describe the application information that’s necessary in order for Commission staff and agencies to do their evaluation, so each piece that you’re going to see is required as part of the applicant should be matching up with article 3 in a piece of the evaluation.”
Article 3 covers the information that will be used in the application to assess, score and rank potential projects, as well as describes the eligibility and completeness requirements. The bulk of Article 3 is dedicated to the details for how projects are evaluated and scored. Projects will be scored on five elements that will be assessed by technical staff and summed together for a score: the public benefit ratio; the relative environmental value for ecosystem and water quality; water system improvement; implementation risk; and the project benefit resiliency and non-monetized benefit.
“Article 3 essentially lays out the criteria used by Commission staff to evaluate and then ultimately develop a preliminary score for the Commissioners to consider and potentially change,” said Mr. Gutierrez. “We have an outline for what’s going to be required or considered for the part of the additional eligibility requirements, that’s basically outlined already in the statutes, in addition to what’s going to be considered a complete application.”
Article 4 covers funding for environmental documentation and permits, and how the determination of funding for projects will be made. This article also covers Commission and agency findings, funding agreements, and contracts to administer public benefits.
“Article 4 also talks about how the Commission can adjust particular scores and the appeal process for considerations on how we run though that,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “This includes some of the components including the project benefit ratio, the water system, risk resiliency and monetized benefits, which the Commission will adjust as necessary.”
Article 5 describes how the Commission will deal with confidentiality of certain parts of the application.
PUBLIC AND STAKEHOLDER COMMENTS …
Acknowledging that the draft regulation released is ‘obviously’ going to need changes, DWR’s David Gutierrez said those changes will be based on not only stakeholder input received today, but also by Commission direction in the future.
The bulk of the comments focused on Articles 2 and 3. Many commenters expressed concerns with the climate change analysis, the use of quantitative assessments and the scoring system, the incorporation of the technical reference documents, and concerns that the evaluation criteria might disadvantage groundwater projects. Other comments focused on the modeling, opportunities for public comment, the scoring process, and how public benefits will be managed.
Comments received are being posted at the California Water Commission website, and the webcast from the public hearing is now available as well.
At the conclusion of the public comments, it seems clear that at least one more round of draft regulations and public comment will be needed. Those revisions will be discussed at the October 18th Commission meeting.
Comments on this version of the draft regulation are due by 5pm on October 3rd.