The California Water Commission appears to have killed all 12 of the above-ground storage reservoirs proposed under the voter-approved, $7.5 billion Proposition 1 water bond of 2014 by estimating they will all cost more than their benefits.
Prop 1’s details and implementation were controversial, because environmentalists and special interests carved off over $4.8 billion of the funding. But drought-weary voters were supportive of the agreement to spend $2.7 billion, or 36 percent, on the state’s first above-ground water storage in 45 years.
The California Bond Accountability website for Prop 1 still states that it will use “sale of $7.545 billion in California general obligation bonds to fund ecosystems and watershed protection and restoration, water supply infrastructure projects, including surface and groundwater storage, and drinking water protection.”
But the California Water Commission (CWC) awarded these projects scores under 1, which means that the construction cost is greater than the estimated benefit value for all 12 of the proposed reservoirs that voters assumed they had approved in the $7.5 billion bond.
For example, the Sites Dam and Reservoir, off the Sacramento River, was projected by water districts and other proponents as scoring a 2.11. They estimated a cost of $1.66 billion to build the reservoir, creating benefits worth $3.5 billion and providing enough water storage for 3.6 million people.
But the CWC scored the project a failing “0.4”,by accepting the proponents’ $1.66 billion project cost, but estimating the benefits of the reservoir at only $662 million.
Perhaps even more shocking is the CWC’s treatment of the proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir on the San Joaquin River, which would provide enough water storage for 2.6 million Californians. Water districts and other proponents estimated the dam and reservoir cost at $1 billion, and the benefits at $2.83 billion.
But the CWC gave the project a zero cost-benefit score, according to the Fresno Bee. The CWC estimated the project at a $2 billion cost, but found there were to be no benefits from the Temperance Flat reservoir, because the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, under the Obama administration, determined in 2016: “The San Joaquin River is a fully appropriated river, meaning the State Water Resources Control Board presumes that no more water rights are available here.”
Temperance Flat proponents were flabbergasted. With 173 percent above-average snowpack and above-average rainfall in early 2017, the California Department of Water Resourceshad released an extra 2 million acre feet of water in the first 6 months of 2017, from Friant Dam near the Port of Stockton on the San Joaquin River.
Despite the CWC’s difficulties in finding cost-benefit justifications for any above-ground water storage project in California, CWC appears to have had no trouble agreeing on the cost-benefit justifications for most of the other $4.8 billion in Prop 1 bond spending. According to the California Bond Accountability website, CWC approved about $3.97 billion in bond spending for ecosystems, watershed restoration, groundwater storage, and drinking water protection.
The need for storage remains urgent. Breitbart News reported recently that the 2017-2018 La Niña U.S. weather condition has brought a wet and cold winter to the East Coast and Mid-West, and warm and drought-like conditions to California and the West Coast.
Southern California is expecting a couple of wet days in the coming week, but the area is running a 5.26 inch rainfall deficit for the 2017-2018 rain year that began on October 1 and runs through September 30.