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Executive Summary for January 25th

Newly introduced legislation would allow voters to decide the fate of Gov. Brown’s controversial water tunnels plan. Also, cities try to take advantage of El Niño deluges, while Monterey Peninsula seeks to add recycled water and desalinated water to its supply.

Published on Jan. 25, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Legislation Would Give Voters Decision in Gov. Brown’s Water Tunnels Plan

Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans for construction of the twin Delta water tunnels have a new challenge in the state’s legislature. Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman is introducing a bill that would put any water conveyance projects involving the Delta before voters via a ballot initiative.

“An enormous amount of time and energy has been wasted rebranding and repackaging the same old Peripheral Canal plan that voters rejected decades ago,” Eggman said. “It’s tragic that despite our ongoing drought, this flawed plan is being forced on us without any true debate even though it will not add one drop of water to California’s supply, but it will raise the water rates and potentially property taxes of millions of Californians.”

The last time a version of this plan, which was then known as the Peripheral Canal, was put before voters was 1982.

“The proposed tunnels are the most expensive, most controversial water project proposed in half a century with the potential to permanently destroy the Delta’s ecosystem and community,” Delta-area State Senator Lois Wolk said. “Californians have the right to look at the facts and decide whether the tunnels are good for California, or whether we should drop this plan once and for all.”

Brown is sure to veto the bill, should it make it to his desk, but it’s not the only speed bump on the horizon for his tunnels plan, known since the summer as the California Water Fix. The “No Blank Checks Initiative” will appear on the November 8, 2016 California ballot and if passed it would require public infrastructure bonds topping $2 billion that require new or increased costs for taxpayers to be subject to voter approval. The California Water Fix is estimated to cost at least $15 billion.

The “No Blank Checks Initiative” has been spearheaded by a wealthy Stockton-area farmer, Dean Cortopassi. The Sacramento Bee reports that he was previously a big donor to Governor Schwarzenegger until the governor’s support for the tunnels/canals plan. Since then, the Bee reports, Cortopassi has spent millions of dollars fighting the project.

Making the Most of El Niño Rains

Bakersfield Assemblyman Rudy Salas introduced legislation to make sure that $2.7 billion earmarked for water storage in a 2014 water bond will go toward building two new dams. New water storage projects are seeing an upswing in popularity during this wet El Niño winter.

But big infrastructure projects like dams take time to build and won’t help this season. However, there are ways to make the most of the current streak of wet weather, as Next City reports in a roundup of what cities are doing across the state.

One of the highlighted projects is the Fresno Irrigation District’s groundwater banking facility, designed to slow runoff and allow it percolate back into underground aquifers. Banking groundwater in this way can be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than building dams.

Another project is StormCatcher in Los Angeles, which is testing out a partnership between old and new technology. Under the project, homes are equipped with cisterns to catch rainwater and the cisterns are outfitted with software that can time the cisterns’ release of water into the yard (which is specially landscaped to help infiltrate water), with the weather.

“California cities need to capitalize on rains to mitigate water shortages, while preparing for the risk that so much water falling on parched soil could fail to absorb into the groundwater, overwhelm the system and cause flash floods,” writes Jen Kinney for Next City.

Is Recycled Water Coming to Monterey Peninsula?

A diversified approach to water supply is underway on the Monterey Peninsula as the president of California American Water testified in documents to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) about Pure Water Monterey, a project to pump recycled water back into groundwater.

“By maximizing recycled water opportunities, we will be able to decrease the size of our proposed desalination plant and reduce our environmental footprint. We are hopeful the Commission analysis of the project will show its cost to be reasonable and affirm the advantages it has over building a larger desalination plant,” California American Water president Rob MacLean said.

Currently the region’s water comes from the Carmel River and from the Seaside Groundwater Basin. Pumping from the groundwater basin, however, needs to be reduced because of saltwater intrusion.

California American Water currently has a plan, the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project, that would include a desalination plant and 22 miles (35km) of pipeline, pumps and storage to move desalinated water to customers. The size of the desalination plant, however, hinges on the fate of Pure Water Monterey, the groundwater recharge project. The desalination plant will handle either 9.6 million gallons (36 million litres) per day or a 6.4 million gallons per day if the Pure Water Monterey Project is allowed to replenish groundwater with 3.2 million gallons per day of recycled wastewater.

If approval from the CPUC comes through the water supply project is scheduled to be operational in 2019 and Pure Water Monterey online by July 2019.

Top image: A voter marks his ballot while voting in Elk Grove, Calif. in a recent election. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

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