Jan. 26, 2018 – -State water officials last week announced none of nearly a dozen landmark water storage projects that could help California cope with its next drought provide the public benefits that their supporters claim, potentially putting their state funding at risk, according to a published report in the San Jose Mercury News.
Three years ago, during the depths of California’s historic drought, state voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion bond measure to pay for new water projects, including building more dams and reservoirs. Water districts drew up plans and submitted lengthy applications for 11 projects.
But on Thursday, the staff of the California Water Commission, which must decide by July which water storage projects will receive bond money, raised major concerns. They announced that nearly half of the projects have no public benefits that meet the ballot measure’s rules for getting money, and the rest fall significantly short of providing as much benefit to the public as they would cost.
Joe Yun, executive officer of the commission, whose nine-member board is appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, said at a meeting in Sacramento that his agency will provide more details to the public on Feb. 2, and that the projects’ supporters will have three weeks to appeal. The scores could change after those appeals come in, he said, which would affect how much money, if any, is approved for each project. “We are not kicking folks out,” he said. “This is an expression of additional information that needs to come.”
If the low scores by the commission’s staff hold up through its appeals process in the next few months, many of the dam and reservoir projects are likely to get no state money from Proposition 1 or in some cases, less than they have budgeted, reducing their chances of ever getting built.
“We were shocked,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, a coalition of 430 public water agencies across the state. “I think the voters would be concerned that staff working for the state government are clearly raising huge hurdles toward moving these projects forward,” Quinn said.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen, (R-Yuba City), said the state is risking losing its best opportunity in 50 years to build new reservoirs. “The public should be concerned. They voted for large new dams and reservoirs,” Nielsen said. “I think this is an effort to undermine the intent of the voters. It looks like the staff is setting the bar so high that nobody can reach it. The citizens of California need to know what’s happening. I can’t say how important this is.”