WSIP Program Manager Amy Young updates commissioners on project schedule, progress on the projects, and how the projects will be coming before the commission
At the January meeting of the California Water Commission, staff updated the commissioners on the status of the projects in the Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP). Amy Young, the Commission’s WSIP Program Manager, updated the Commission on the program schedule going forward, recent activity by the applicants, and how the projects will be coming before the Commission.
In 2018, the Commission completed the application review process and made Maximum Conditional Eligibility Determinations or MCEDs for the eight projects under the Water Storage Investment Program. In order to receive the funding, applicants must complete certain requirements spelled out in Prop 1 and the Commission’s regulations for the program, so applicants have been moving forward with their projects to meet the statutory and regulatory requirements of the WSIP.
PROJECTED SCHEDULES AND STATUTORY DEADLINES
The program regulations require that the applicants submit quarterly reports to summarize their activities as they move towards the final award hearing. For the past year, the Commission has received quarterly reports from all the applicants which are posted on the Commission website on the individual project pages, along with the individual project schedules.
Based on that information, staff has prepared an estimated timeline for the final award hearings and construction and operation of the projects.
In the quarterly reports, applicants reported that they are working on planning activities, such as identifying funding partners, preparing feasibility studies, and developing their environmental documentation.
“It’s important to remember that when these applications first came in, they were based mostly on modeling and conceptual plans, and as the projects have moved from this conceptual phase to what is now the planning phase, the applicants in their quarterly reports have provided information about their activities,” said Ms. Young. “For example, the surface storage projects are working with the Bureau of Reclamation to complete their feasibility studies, working on their environmental documentation, and refining their project descriptions. The three Southern California projects that are proposing pulse flows on the Feather River began working with their state water contractors, DWR, as well as DFW to understand what types of agreements they are going to be needing.”
The WSIP program regulations allowed for early funding awards to assist with permits and environmental documents; of the eight projects, three projects received such awards, totaling $8 million for activities such as working on operational analyses, geotechnical studies, securing land access to perform environmental studies, completing feasibility studies, and working on project design that will eventually lead to the completion of their environmental documentation and their permits.
DEADLINE FOR CONTINUING ELIGIBILITY: JANUARY, 2022
In order to maintain eligibility, by January 1, 2022, all projects must have completed their draft environmental document and released it for review; have a 75% commitment of non-public benefit cost share; and completed a feasibility study. Ms. Young noted that in 2018 when the conditional funding awards initially were made, the Commission made 9 determinations for each project and one of those determinations was that the projects appeared feasible. Once these items are completed, the applicant will come before the Commission for the final feasibility finding. In order to meet the statutory deadline, the Commission must make their finding of feasibility no later than the December 2021 Commission meeting.
She noted that it is possible that more than one project will complete their continuing eligibility items sooner than that, so staff will schedule projects together in groups when possible for those final findings of feasibility.
Once through the continuing eligibility process, in order to receive the final funding award, project applicants will need to have completed contracts for both the administration of public benefits and any contracts for non-public benefit cost share; completed environmental documentation, and obtained required permits. Once those items are completed, applicants can schedule their final award hearing.
“Keep in mind there is no deadline in statute for the final award hearing, and some projects could take years to complete these items,” said Ms. Young. “This is a long-term program.”
CONTRACTS FOR ADMINISTRATION OF PUBLIC BENEFITS
Applicants must enter into contracts with the applicable state agency to ensure the public benefits that are funded by the program are realized. The Department of Water Resources is the administering agency for recreation, flood control, and emergency response public benefits. The State Water Board is the administering agency for water quality improvements. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is the administering agency for ecosystem improvements.
The administering agencies will submit draft contracts to the Commission after the final environmental documents are completed and the permits are obtained. The Commission will hear public comment on these draft contracts at a Commission meeting and the commissioners will have the opportunity to make comments. The final contracts must then be executed by the applicants and the administering agencies before scheduling a final award hearing. The final contracts will then eventually be incorporated into the final funding agreements.
At the meeting, the Commission will hear from staff as well as the administering agencies and the applicants. All 8 projects are on different schedules and will come to the Commission at different times over the years.
NEXT STEPS …
In moving towards the final awards, the projects will interface with the Commission a minimum of three times. The first is for continuing eligibility and final feasibility findings, next with the draft contracts for public benefits, and then the final award hearings. Ms. Young noted that the Commission may engage with the applicants at other times, such as site visits or to hear about a project’s progress.
“During future updates, staff might being information about a project to the Commission and the Commission might want to hear from a project proponent at a meeting,” she said. “If there are situations that would trigger the Commission’s interest in having project proponents appear, we’d like to hear your input on that.”