George Boardman: When won’t state bureaucrats spend money? When it’s for reservoirs | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: When won’t state bureaucrats spend money? When it’s for reservoirs

George Boardman
Columnist

Our very own assemblyman, Brian Dahle, dragged a child's little red wagon into the august chambers of the California Water Commission recently to discuss the topic of water reservoirs in the Golden State.

Given his party affiliation and rural roots, I'll give Dahle credit for not showing up in camo and driving an ATV. Still, the wagon helped him make a valid point about the state's do-nothing response to the will of the people the commission theoretically works for.

The subject up for discussion was $2.7 billion of $7.5 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2014 for the construction of new reservoirs in the state. Dahle, and the 4,000 petitions he said were in his wagon, want to see that money spent on the proposed Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs.

But there is fine print in Proposition 1, which authorized the money, that states the commission must spend the money only on projects that provide "public benefits," defined as improvements in the ecosystem, water quality, flood control, emergency response and recreation.

In January, the commission's staff issued a preliminary determination that 11 projects that requested funding aren't eligible for as much funding as they'd like. Among the applicants was the Nevada Irrigation District, whose request for $12 million to start work on the Centennial Dam project was rejected. (According to at least two NID directors, the proposal was an inept effort to begin with.)

This conflict is another skirmish in the ongoing war between environmentalists and water users — mainly farmers — over how to solve California's chronic water supply problem. Given the size of the state, the battle is being fought on several different fronts, including the House of Representatives last week.

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That's where House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, popular with the ag industry in California, tried to insert a provision in the federal budget bill that would permit preliminary work to begin on raising the height of Shasta Dam before the state puts up any money for the project.

Shasta is the lynchpin of the federal Central Water Project, which supplies water to agriculture and urban districts as far south as King County. Big ag would love to see Shasta raised another 18.5 feet, allowing Shasta Lake to store an additional 634,000 acre feet of water.

But current federal law requires that local entities — in this case, California — commit half the construction cost before work begins, and Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear he'd rather spend the money on his Delta tunnels (or tunnel) than the dam. Leaders of California's Democratic delegate were actually willing to go along with McCarthy's $20 million in startup money until Brown put his foot down. That money didn't make the federal budget.

The California reservoirs are a more straightforward proposition. The Sites Reservoir in Colusa County would store about 1.8 million-acre feet of water from the Sacramento River during the spring and summer months for use by participating water agencies throughout the Sacramento Valley. According to one estimate, the reservoir would capture enough runoff between October and February to meet the water needs of 13.3 million people.

The project has been endorsed by congressmen from both parties, John Garamendi and Doug LaMalfa, and the water agencies would bear much of the cost. Proponents of the reservoir asked for $1.6 billion of Proposition 1 funds to build the project, and the staff of the state water commission deemed them eligible for $600 million in funding.

Still, that was better than the recommended allocation for the Temperance Flat Reservoir, a $2.6 billion project for the San Joaquin Valley that would create a more stable water supply for Central Valley residents and farmers. Promoters requested $1 billion. The commission staff decided it's ineligible for any of the bond money.

Proponents have been given a chance to beef up their proposals, and funding decisions will be announced by July. Chairman Armando Quintero insists the commission "is anxious to get the money out the door," but Dahle and others don't think they're moving fast enough.

"Farmers like myself are concerned about the shortage of water — we're seeing another drought cycle," Dahle said. "Many people agree these projects make a lot of sense," said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City. "There is very clearly a mandate that this money be spent."

But if environmental outfits like Defenders of Wildlife have their say, neither of these projects will get funded because they would hurt the environment. Many groups say we need to do a better job of conserving water and recharging our poorly depleted ground water recharging system before we start building more dams and reservoirs.

All of the environmental proposals put together won't solve California's long-term water problem, unless we're willing to close our borders and start deporting people — and I don't mean the ones here illegally.

We need new reservoirs to support the lifestyle we now enjoy, to make sure healthy water is available at a reasonable cost to even our poorest residents, and to keep viable our $50 billion a year agriculture industry that supplies us with the highest-quality fruits and vegetables available anywhere.

Climate change has made our water supply increasingly unstable. The only long-term solution that makes any sense is a well-designed reservoir system.

The voters have decided to spend the money. The bureaucrats in Sacramento should quit trying to micro-manage our lives and spend the money as the voters intended.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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