The California Water Commission (CWC), tasked with dispersing Proposition 1 funds, met on Wednesday to some criticism and skepticism after its staff concluded earlier this month that no water projects proposed thus far meet the initial cost-benefit test. The announcement confounded the water and farming districts vying for the state bond funding, along with elected officials who helped craft the 2014 proposition. This week’s meeting was an opportunity for the CWC to review and take additional comment on the status of the applications that CWC staff had assessed and determined lacking.
Several lawmakers, including Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) and Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama), asked the CWC to release the funds earmarked for new water projects, urging expediency as California experiences a very dry winter.
Proposals for Proposition 1 funding range from new groundwater banks, existing reservoir expansions and multi-billion-dollar new dam projects. Proponents say the projects will add valuable water storage without damaging the environment.
Passed overwhelmingly by voters at the height of California’s most recent drought, Proposition 1 appropriated $2.7 billion for new lakes and water storage. The measure, which did not earmark funding for any specific project, requires the CWC to grade applications on overall public benefit, relative environmental value, resiliency and implementation risk.
Commissioners assured attendees that the unfavorable initial round of cost-benefit ratio scores is just the first step in the process and that none of the projects have been summarily denied.
Armando Quintero, Chair of the eight-member body, pushed back on the notion that the CWC is being stingy with bond funding. He says the 70-member review staff in most cases needed more information about the projects and that applicants can appeal the initial scores. He also noted that the staff has met with and provided guidance to project applicants to clarify the need for additional data to achieve the “public benefit” scores required for approval. A final decision is expected in July.
Further complicating the conversation for the CWC was the Monday’s announcement by federal regulators that contractors will only receive 20 percent of their initial water allocation because of the state’s dismal snowpack.