SACRAMENTO (CN) – Just two months after lawmakers accused it of sitting on voter-approved funds, California regulators have switched their tune and are ready to spend billions on water infrastructure projects.
After three days of public comment, the state agency tasked with vetting and doling out Proposition 1 funding said Friday that eight applicants, including two new dam projects, meet cost-benefit muster and tentatively qualify for state funding.
The big winner was Sites Project, an off-stream reservoir that would add 1.8 million acre-feet of water storage in Northern California. The California Water Commission said the new dam project that will siphon water from the Sacramento River will be eligible for $1 billion in funding, up from $933 million recommended by commission staff in April.
The commission deemed eight of the 11 proposals eligible for the next phase of review, although many of the requests won’t be fully funded.
“We appreciate the dialogue with applicants and the public this week, and the commission shares their desire to fund as many eligible projects as possible,” Commission Chair Armando Quintero said in a statement. “While our decisions mean some projects will not be eligible for their full ask due to the requirements of Proposition 1, at the end of this process we will be kick starting a variety of projects that add significant water storage for California’s future.”
In February, a bipartisan group of lawmakers blasted the commission for giving each of the projects an initial failing public benefit score. They said the commission had lost the trust of voters and accused it of slowing down the projects that are vying for the state bonds.
Voters approved Proposition 1 during the state’s historic drought in 2014. The $7.5 billion measure appropriates $2.7 billion specifically for new water storage.
Competing projects include Sites, Temperance Flat Dam in the Central Valley, two San Francisco Bay Area reservoir enlargement projects and a groundwater project in Kern County.
The commission’s grades are being closely watched by lawmakers, farmers, water districts and environmentalists across the Golden State.
Major water projects like Sites and Temperance Flat have been routinely shot down over the years, while all of California’s largest dams were built before 1980.
The projects will next be graded in three categories: relative environmental value, resilience and implementation risk. The commission is expected to hand out final grades and award decision in July.