Prolific rain and snow storms in Northern California during recent weeks offer hope that the state’s six-year drought will finally end in 2017. Even if that’s the case, the year ahead will be filled with major water-related issues that will impact the region’s residential and commercial water users.
For starters, the state is expected to release emergency water-use regulations this month. While we don’t know what the state will propose, you can be certain that the Water Authority will continue to advocate to make sure our region’s ratepayers get the full drought-resiliency benefits from their investments in a diversified water supply portfolio and major water infrastructure that supports our region’s $222 billion economy.
We are urging the state to continue its “stress test” methodology it developed in 2016 to ensure that water suppliers have enough supplies for at least three more dry years. The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies passed that stringent test last year.
Our region does not face a water shortage emergency due to more than $3 billion in investments in projects such as the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the enlarged San Vicente Reservoir and other projects that ensure water is available when and where it’s needed. At the same time, we have taken a statewide leadership role by promoting water-use efficiency through our Live WaterSmart campaign.
This winter, the Water Authority also is working to shape the state’s proposed long-term rules for water use and decreasing water waste. The state’s draft regulatory framework released in November contains some laudable goals – but some proposals could have unintended consequences.
On the one hand, we are pleased that the state is not proposing a uniform reduction in water use for commercial, institutional and industrial (CII) water users, such as schools, businesses and parks. On the other hand, we have concerns about the draft framework’s proposed performance measures for CII customers.
The proposed long-term measures could have significant practical and financial impacts, for instance by requiring existing CII customers to have separate meters for irrigation water – an expensive proposition for businesses. Read our formal comment letter to state regulators here.
Another major issue facing our state in 2017 is how to address the complex environmental and water supply challenges in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta. The Brown administration is pursuing a $17 billion plan called the California WaterFix – also known as the twin tunnels project – which would involve boring two giant water-conveyance tunnels underneath the Bay-Delta for 30 miles.
While the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) launched a PR campaign late last year advocating for the project, it’s still unclear whether the WaterFix offers a good return on investment for our region’s ratepayers.
For the past five years, the Water Authority has asked fundamental questions about the project: How much water would San Diego County receive and how reliable would it be? How much would San Diego County pay? Will those costs hamper local water supply development? Which agencies statewide will commit to paying for the project? How will San Diego County be protected from paying an unfair share?
We are still waiting for answers.
A final issue to watch in the year ahead: MWD has appealed our landmark legal victories in 2015, in which a Superior Court judge ruled that MWD set illegal rates that overcharged San Diego County ratepayers. The judge ordered MWD to set legal rates in the future and pay the Water Authority more than $243 million, including damages for illegal rates from 2011-2014, legal costs, interest and attorneys’ fees. These funds would be returned to the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies in proportion to their overpayments to MWD.
We expect oral arguments in the next few months and a decision by midyear – one of the many significant events ahead in 2017.