Water folks

Last week, after Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior David Hayes, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, and Ca Resources Under Secretary Jerry Meral made a show of listening to non-exporter perspectives at a public meeting on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (see our 4/27 Special Edition), they had a REAL meeting with the REAL players: “environmental reps and several of us water folks,” as the Metropolitan Water District’s Roger Patterson described the meeting.

He told his board that the public meeting in Sacramento was “pretty much a gripe session.” From now on, the REAL players won’t be asking what non-exporters think; they’ll be telling us what they are doing.

So there Delta folks.

Just because we haven’t been hearing about Bay Delta Conservation Plan meetings this year doesn’t mean they haven’t been happening. But Patterson said that whereas former monthly meetings focused on conveyance (those were the ones that involved a steering committee), recent meetings have focused on policy. The executive committee involved in these meetings includes MWD’s general manager Jeff Kightlinger, Westlands’ Tom Birmingham, Kern County Water Agency’s Jim Beck, someone from Interior, a couple of fish agencies, and some NGOs, including Anthony Saracino of the reliably compliant Nature Conservancy.

(To watch the video of the MWD’s April 26 Special Committee on Bay Delta meeting with the Board of Directors click here )

Patterson was enthusing about positive developments in the conveyance planning process when a board member asked, “Have we actually agreed to do this?”

Suppose, asked the board member, that Met (also known as MWD) decides they have better things to do with their money? And if Met wants to participate, how will they pay for it? They have low fixed revenue, and the conveyance project will increase their already high fixed costs.

Urban water management plans in MWD’s service area are looking at developing more local water supply. Member agencies will be buying less water from Met, and raising commodity rates may not offset the loss of revenue.

So SOME people in Southern California understand the folly – and the price – of relying indefinitely on imported water.

Patterson reassured his board that they are just paying their share of study costs, that there is no project yet, and that no final decision would be required for 20 to 24 months.

Then the board got to see a detailed PowerPoint presentation on what the project will look like, what the benefits and risks are, and what it will cost.

Conveyance planners are pushing the 15,000 cfs facility. Smaller is not simpler to construct. And the more water they take, the better their water quality!!! The lower their treatment costs!!!

They say that a larger size isolated conveyance improves Delta flow patterns for fish, an assertion that appears to defy logic.

Among risks mentioned on a PowerPoint slide but not discussed is an available tunnel contractor pool. There’s not much competition for this kind of work. We know what that does to costs.

In addition to the expressions of skepticism from at least one board member, we find it encouraging that MWD is now looking at the incremental costs of water they can expect to get as a result of the investment in conveyance.

For the sake of discussion, suppose the project cost $600 million and MWD got 6 million acre feet. The cost of an acre foot would be $100. But if MWD is getting 5 million acre feet without new conveyance, then the incremental “new” supply is only 1 million acre feet. Divide that into a $600 million project cost, and each acre foot costs $600. And that is without delivery costs.

That is the cost the MWD board will want to compare to costs of other new sources such are recycling, conservation, and desalination.

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