Council Approves Support of California WaterFix Program

$16 billion State project would protect delta waters

Published : Tuesday, September 19, 2017 | 5:44 AM

Despite opposition by a number of consumer and water conservation groups, the Pasadena City Council Monday evening unanimously approved a resolution in support of the proposed $16 billion California WaterFix Program, due to be completed in 2030.

The resolution is only a policy statement of support and not an official legislative action.

According to a staff report presented by the Pasadena Department of Public Works (PWP), the project proposes to construct a series of reinforced concrete tunnels located up to 150 feet below the Delta and divided into two general sections known as the North Tunnels and Main Tunnels. The North Tunnels would start approximately 34 miles north of the Forebay with three intake structures, each diverting up to 3,000 cubic feet per second (1.35 million gallons per minute) of water from the Sacramento River.

The most northern intake would be served by a 28-foot diameter tunnel then combining with a 40-foot diameter tunnel at the second intake, the report continued. The third intake would be connected to a separate 28-foot diameter tunnel. The intakes connected by the North Tunnels then join the Main Tunnels consisting of two 40-foot diameter tunnels that span approximately 30 miles south to the inlet of the Forebay. At this junction, tunnel water would either be pumped or flow by gravity into the Forebay and then the water would be distributed to various water agencies and contractors.

According to PWP Principal Engineer Gary Takara, The water entering the intake is located away from fish spawning grounds and sensitive habitat, thus reducing impacts to sensitive fish species and salinity issues. In addition, reported Takara, levee failures due to continued subsidence or a large seismic event would result in minimal impact to the conveyance since the water is protected by the tunnels deep underground.

The report also noted that a rise in sea levels due to global warming would not affect the quality of the water in the Forebay since the inlet would be relocated much further inland and upstream from the San Francisco Bay.

Not everyone was pleased with the idea, however.

“We are disappointed that the Pasadena City Council supported an unfair rate and tax increase on their residents. If the project is ultimately approved, Pasadena ratepayers will be forced to pay higher water bills for the same water that they’re already getting,” said Brenna Norton, of Food & Water Watch, a non-profit consumer watchdog agency. According the PWP staff report, local water rates would increase approximately five percent a year per household, or $2.91. Norton also questioned the unknown interest rates of any loans to the project and took issue with some of the report’s projected figures and calculations.

Councilmember Gary Masuda questioned the project’s safety with regard to earthquakes, noting the recent weather events in Texas, Florida and Mexico. Gurcharan Bawa, PWP general manager, explained that the 1500-foot depth of the tunnels would more safely protect the water in the event of an earthquake, for example, while without the new projects, local levees would likely crumble, with no backup plan to save the water.

Councilmember Tyron Hampton also asked about the danger to the California Aqueduct in a major earthquake, but Bawa explained to him that the Aqueduct is located in Southern California, while the WaterFix project is in Northern California.

The extensive report added that “although the California WaterFix does not guarantee or intend to provide greater water supplies, it provides a higher level of reliability compared to continued existing operations and mitigates the potential for future reductions in water supplies.”

In December 2016, The final EIR and the Environmental Impact Statements (“EIS”) for the project were released, and additional biological studies will be finalized to complete the environmental clearance of the project and allow issuance of regulatory permits in late 2017 or early 2018, said Takara.

Final design is anticipated to take four years to complete, with construction starting in the third and take up to 13 years for completion. Conservatively, project completion is anticipated sometime in the mid-2030, according to the PWP report.

The revised projected cost to construct California WaterFix including mitigation is $16.7 billion with an annual operating, maintenance and mitigation cost of $64.4 million beginning in 2033.

While cost allocations have not been finalized, the Metropolitan Water District’s (MWD) share of updated construction costs is expected to be approximately $4.33 billion, and MWD is projecting the California WaterFix will increase their Tier 1 water rates by a range of approximately $122 to $196 per acre-foot. The current Tier 1 rate is $979 per acre-foot. For an average Pasadena household, the water bill is projected to increase approximately $2.30 to $3.60 month as a result of funding and operating the California WaterFix, according to the report.

The PWP report also acknowledged the risks of the project, saying, “Implementing the California WaterFix creates risks that are manageable and can be mitigated to a reasonable extent, and that “Strong opposition challenging the project creates political risk and the possibility of delays.

The report continued, “These opposing groups believe that Southern California benefits from increased water supplies at the cost of the Delta and the local communities,” said . However, California WaterFix does not guarantee greater water supplies, but rather is intended to support the co-equal goals of improving the system reliability and restoring the ecosystem.”

The PWP report also noted that “Any project of this scale has exposure to construction overruns. The current cost estimate was calculated by an engineering and construction management firm specializing in large and complex projects. This estimate was also independently verified by a second company. The estimated cost also includes a sizable contingency to further mitigate cost risks.”

In making its recommendation, PWP said, “Moving forward with California WaterFix and California Eco Restore will protect investments made by MWD and its member agencies. By doing nothing to address the Delta issues jeopardizes access to critical water supplies that are necessary to continue sustaining California’s economy and quality of life. The California WaterFix represents the most cost- effective large-scale solution to improving regional water supply reliability for Southern California, and hence for Pasadena.”

Councilmember Margaret McAustin agreed, as she introduced the Council motion to approve the resolution, saying, “You don’t mess with Mother Nature. This is a responsible, long-term investment in our infrastructure.”

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