The Daily Democrat | By Duane Chamberlain and Matt Rexroad
January 29, 2018 –
Last week, state regulators released their initial findings for potential dam and reservoir projects that could receive funds from Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond passed by voters in 2014 in response to California’s record drought. The bond was approved with the promise of at least $2.7 billion for increased water storage but based on what was released last week, none of the projects that applied met the criteria for this money. Water agencies were alarmed when the results were released and many were caught off guard.
One critical factor for deciding if a project will receive funding is its so-called “public benefit.” According to state regulator’s evaluations, none of the 11 storage projects that applied for funding met the mark for sufficient public benefit, half coming back with zero benefits. How can this be?
Tucked in the fine print of the water bond is a provision that says that state funding can only pay for a proposed dam or reservoir’s public benefits defined as things like flood protection, recreation and environmental improvement. It explicitly bars any money going toward the water storage component of a project, even though most people would agree that this is a clear public benefit. Because of how the formula was devised, this has created a huge problem for getting water bond funding for storage projects like the proposed Sites Reservoir off the Sacramento River, even though the project does have significant benefits. Along with creating enough storage to serve 13.3 million Californians, the Sites project meets many of the public benefits required by the bond such as improved water quality, environmental flows for native fish, vital flood protection, and recreational opportunities.
The Oroville Dam crisis was a wake-up call to the Sacramento Region that has long been prone to flood risk. With Sites in place, Sacramento and other downstream communities will have another layer of protection by having another outlet for excess flows. To claim that this is not sufficient public benefit on its own is concerning.
Flooding is just one of many water issues that must be dealt with. We are also faced with a deteriorating Bay Delta system and groundwater depletion. These are daunting challenges, but they can be met if we take the rights steps. Surface storage projects like the Sites Reservoir must go forward if we are to address these challenges.
Sites would be an off-site reservoir. Water would be pumped in and out depending on need, which would help manage flows on the Sacramento River. This also gives water managers the flexibility to time flows down the river to best match the needs of endangered fish in the Delta, which is an important public environmental benefit.
When voters passed Proposition 1, they were promised that part of the solution to future droughts would be to save more water in wet years via projects like Sites. Just last year, California’s reservoirs were refilled in just one rainy season after years of severe drought. If Sites reservoir had been built, we would have saved an estimated 1.8 million acre feet of water as of May 2017. That’s almost enough to fill two Folsom Lakes and would certainly help the state plan for and weather any future drought. It will also diversify our region’s water supply by adding another storage option. We both supported the creation of the Woodland Davis Clean Water Agency which now supplies Yolo County residents with water via a new pipeline connected to the Sacramento River instead of having to rely on groundwater. Sites will ensure we continue to have a reliable supply. Not to mention the benefits it will have for the Delta.
Sites and other water storage projects will have until the end of February to appeal the scoring of the public benefits of their respective projects. As things stand right now, no dams or reservoirs stand to benefit from the water bond that was supposed to invest in preventing future droughts. The case for Sites Reservoir is compelling and the benefits to our region are clear. Now the state needs to do the right thing and uphold the promise it made to voters by providing badly needed funding to Sites and other water storage solutions.
Duane Chamber and Matt Rexroad represent districts 5 and 3 on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.