Metropolitan Water District Buys Into $11B Of $17B Two Tunnel Trans-Delta Project

Reversing what appeared to be momentum to reduce by half the scope of California’s newest and most controversial north-to-south water diversion plan, the governing board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Tuesday voted to take up the lion’s share of the cost of bringing the so-called California WaterFix to fruition.
Brought along with the April 10 vote are eight cities and communities in San Bernardino County which are members of the Metropolitan Water District alliance.
WaterFix is the proposed $17-billion project to re-engineer the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and construct two massive tunnels through the massive estuary to facilitate the movement of water from the northern part of the Golden State to the south, where five-sevenths of California’s population lives. The tunnels were originally conceived as a joint project between cities and farms served by California’s federal and state north-south waterworks. The two primary participants consisted of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a consortium of 26 Southern California communities/cities/water districts and the gargantuan agricultural Westlands Water District in Fresno and Kings counties.
WaterFix is a successor project to the Peripheral Canal concept, a succession of proposals dating from the 1940s to divert Sacramento River water around the edge of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, thus creating a canal that would transport fresh water from the Sacramento River and bypass the delta instead of going through it, for uses farther south. The peripheral canal was intended to resolve water quality issues brought on by the inrush of saltwater which occurred as the result of the previous importation of water from the southern end of the Delta into the San Joaquin Valley. This saltwater flow came about as a result of the high-power pumps obliterating the rather insubstantial boundary between freshwater and saltwater. In 1982, voters defeated a ballot initiative to build the then-current Peripheral Canal. The Peripheral Canal concept did not die, however, and over the years Senator Dianne Feinstein and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and then Governor Jerry Brown emerged as major supporters of more recent incarnations of the plan.
What originally was proposed to be two 25 mile tunnels from the Sacramento River at the northern end of the delta through the Delta to existing federal and state pumping stations near the southern extreme of the delta, through economic necessity, appeared to be on the brink of being reduced to a single tunnel last year. In September 2017, the Westlands Water District, a jurisdiction that covers more than 1,000 square miles of prime farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties and as such is the largest agricultural water district in the United States, voted against joining the project, saying it simply did not have sufficient funding to participate. In October, the Metropolitan Water District board voted to make a $4.3 million buy-in to WaterFix. But given the $17-billion price tag to the two tunnel proposal, with funding sources drying up, it appeared as if the project would need to be scaled back. In February, the California Department of Water Resources gave indication that it was purposed to take the project on in stages, and would construct a single tunnel at a cost of about $11 billion.
Last month, the Los Angeles contingent of the Metropolitan Water District Alliance, hyperconscious that the city of Los Angeles is bearing a significant degree of the financial burden, expressed reluctance at sustaining the $4.3 billion commitment. The Los Angeles City Council voted to oppose the WaterFix project if the MWD was consigned to paying in excess of 47 percent of the $11 billion – i.e., $5.17 billion – in completing the one-tunnel version of the project or 26 percent – $4.42 billion – of the cost of the $17 billion two-tunnel project.
But among the other Metropolitan Water District board members – which consist of representatives from various water agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties – there is concern that Los Angeles has institutional dibs on a major portion of the water the Metropolitan Water District obtains and that they need to act to ensure future water supplies now. Simultaneously, Governor Jerry Brown was engaged in an intensive round of lobbying to induce the board members to ensure the project is completed at the earliest possible date and to the two tunnel capacity originally envisioned.
In making his pitch, Brown asserted that Central Valley agricultural interests will eventually realize that the Northern California water is essential to their future viability and will come around with a significant portion of the yet-to-be-assured funding for the project. Conversely, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pressed all five members of the Metropolitan Water District board he appointed to hold the line, and not commit the funding Brown was requesting. One of those, John Murray Jr., who is the vice chairman of the Metropolitan Water District board, said the confidence the governor expressed that the growers and water districts in the San Joaquin Valley, in Bakersfield, Fresno and both Kern County and King County will sign on to the funding of the project is too optimistic. He said it was irresponsible in the extreme to commit the $11 billion without knowing if the remaining 35.3 percent of the funding would be forthcoming. The Los Angeles contingent asked for a delay on the vote until some order of commitment from the Central Valley water districts could be brokered.
Over the objection of Los Angeles, the vote proceeded and the board voted 27-10 to fund the two-tunnel project. Rarely does the Metropolitan Water District depart significantly from the wishes of the City of Los Angeles. Historically and in many other respects, the Metropolitan Water District is a creature of the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, having been established in 1928 under an act of the California Legislature to build and operate the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct to Los Angeles. Despite Los Angeles’ considerable influence over the Metropolitan Water Agency, the Los Angeles City Council does not exercise direct control over the district, which is headed by its 37 member board.
The City of Pasadena in 1927 initiated the organization of the district by mailing to various cities in Southern California an invitation to submit to their citizens the proposition of joining the Metropolitan Water District. Twelve cities took Pasadena up on the offer and submitted the proposition to their voters, with voters in eleven cities electing to join the collective. Of the original eleven chartering cities, seven – Los Angeles, Pasadena, Santa Monica, San Marino, Beverly Hills, Glendale and Burbank – fell within Los Angeles County. Two – Anaheim and Santa Ana – were Orange County entities and two – San Bernardino and Colton – enclosed by San Bernardino County. In 1931, Compton, Fullerton, Long Beach and Torrance joined the Metropolitan Water District, tipping the balance of control of the district even more heavily in favor of Los Angeles and Orange counties. San Bernardino and Colton were participating as members under the impression and assurance that the route of the Colorado River Aqueduct would come across the Mojave Desert, down the Cajon Pass and through their jurisdictions. By the 1940s, however, the passage for the aqueduct was changed to bring it through the San Gorgonio Pass in Riverside County, while Orange County, serving in a proxy capacity for several of the other members, successfully sued San Bernardino over the amount of water it was going to receive as a consequence of the project. As a consequence, both San Bernardino and Colton withdrew from the Metropolitan Water District. At present, the Metropolitan Water District’s participating municipalities are the cities of Anaheim, Fullerton and Santa Ana in Orange County and the cities of Beverly Hills, Burbank, Compton, Glendale, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Fernando, San Marino, Santa Monica and Torrance in Los Angeles County. Other agencies now participating in the Metropolitan Water District, which is sometimes referred to simply as Metropolitan or by its acronym MWD or as the Met, are the Calleguas Municipal Water District, which serves southern Ventura County and the northwestern part of the Greater Los Angeles Area; the Central Basin Municipal Water District, serving the City of Los Angeles and the City of Commerce; the Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County; the Foothill Municipal Water District in Pasadena; the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Calabasas in Los Angeles County, the Municipal Water District of Orange County; the San Diego County Water Authority; Three Valleys Municipal Water District, serving the Pomona, Walnut and eastern San Gabriel Valleys; the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, serving El Monte and the surrounding area; the West Basin Municipal Water District, serving 17 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County; the Western Municipal Water District of Riverside County; and the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, known by its acronym IEUA.
The Inland Empire Utilities Agency is a regional wastewater treatment agency and wholesale distributor of imported water to the various water agencies in southwestern San Bernardino County, covering the cities of Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario, Upland, San Antonio Heights, Rancho Cucamonga, Guasti and adjacent unincorporated county areas. Some 875,000 people live within the service borders of the IEUA, which encompasses over 242 square miles. Among the services the agency is devoted to is treating wastewater, developing recycled water, local water resources, and conservation programs to reduce the region’s dependence on imported water supplies and drought-proof the service area.
Because a significant amount of the water imported into the southwestern corner of San Bernardino County comes through the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, that portion of San Bernardino County served by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency is within the Metropolitan Water District’s sphere of influence. San Benradino County’s sole representative on the Metropolitan Water District board is Michael Camacho, a resident of Rancho Cucamonga.

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