Metropolitan Water District: The Absentee Landlord

By Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director, Restore the Delta
In 2016, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the largest of the State Water Contractors, spent $175 million to purchase Delta islands. Now they are trying to lease land back to the original owners, SemiTropic Water Storage Agency. MWD has learned that maintenance of Delta levees, water pumping, and water use tracking are big expenses for Delta landowners.
Similarly, Oroville Dam maintenance is expensive. Though warned in 2005 that the spillway was potentially dangerous, MWD and the other State Water Contractors fought against the maintenance and upgrades needed to keep downriver residents safe.
Now let’s consider MWD’s next big money item, the proposed Delta Tunnels.
That project would cost $17 billion just for construction, before any cost overruns. Some economists believe that with interest on the loans, maintenance and operations, the Tunnels will cost up to $60 billion. If the State Water Contractors were too cheap to perform maintenance and upgrades on the Oroville Dam Spillway, why would we believe that they will pay for maintenance or proper mitigation during construction of the Delta Tunnels?
We will be watching how MWD and the State Water Contractors move forward with Oroville Spillway repairs. Will they honor their contracts, or look for a State or Federal taxpayer bailout?
It also should be noted that if they don’t receive a bailout, their ratepayers and property taxpayers will be absorbing the costs for repairs through higher water rates or parcel taxes. Either way, it’s a loss for Metropolitan Water District ratepayers, Santa Clara Valley Water District ratepayers, and all water users who receive water from the State Water Project.
It remains to be seen if MWD will open their checkbook and pay for Oroville repairs, as they should, or if State Water Contractors will find creative ways to enlist state and federal taxpayers to pick up the cost of their negligence.

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