A small step for­ward for water de­liv­ery

Kern County agency votes to help fund $17-bil­lion delta tun­nel project.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - BET­TINA BOXALL bet­tina.boxall@la­times.com Twit­ter: @boxall

Kern County agency votes to pur­sue a 6.5% share in $17-bil­lion delta tun­nel project.

BAK­ERS­FIELD — In a small step for­ward for Cal­i­for­nia WaterFix, a ma­jor San Joaquin Val­ley ir­ri­ga­tion district on Thurs­day ten­ta­tively en­dorsed a par­tial in­vest­ment in the water-de­liv­ery project.

With vir­tu­ally no dis­cus­sion, the board of the Kern County Water Agency ap­proved a let­ter to the state say­ing the agency was in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing a 6.5% share in the $17-bil­lion project, which af­ter a decade of plan­ning is go­ing through a cru­cial fund­ing stage.

Af­ter the vote, Curtis Creel, Kern’s gen­eral man­ager, said that fig­ure could go up or down, depend­ing on fur­ther dis­cus­sions with Kern’s mem­ber ir­ri­ga­tion dis­tricts.

“We all rec­og­nize this is an it­er­a­tive process,” Creel said.

“I think it’s pretty sig­nif­i­cant,” he said of the 6.5% share, which equals roughly $1 bil­lion in WaterFix fund­ing. A full buy-in on Kern’s part would amount to slightly more than twice that amount.

Ear­lier this week, the project’s big­gest po­ten­tial cus­tomer, the Metropoli­tan Water District of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, com­mit­ted to pay­ing for roughly a quar­ter of the project.

WaterFix’s sur­vival de­pends on the will­ing­ness of the ur­ban and agri­cul­tural dis­tricts that get water from the Sacra­mento-San Joaquin Delta to pay for the project, which calls for construction of two mas­sive tun­nels un­der the delta and a new diver­sion point on the Sacra­mento River.

The fi­nanc­ing scheme suf­fered a ma­jor set­back last month when the West­lands Water District, the state’s largest ir­ri­ga­tion district, said its grow­ers could not af­ford the tun­nels and voted not to par­tic­i­pate in WaterFix.

Kern’s move on Thurs­day pushes fund­ing com­mit­ments to only about a third of the project’s cost, mak­ing it clear that months of ne­go­ti­a­tions lie ahead with other po­ten­tial cus­tomers of WaterFix, a top pri­or­ity of Gov. Jerry Brown’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Brown last week per­son­ally lob­bied mem­bers of the MWD and Kern boards to com­mit to fi­nanc­ing. In the only board com­ments be­fore Thurs­day’s vote, Kern Pres­i­dent Ted Page ac­knowl­edged the gover­nor’s com­mit­ment to mov­ing the project for­ward.

“Cal­i­for­nia des­per­ately needs this water in­fra­struc­ture,” Page said. The vote was unan­i­mous, with one mem­ber ab­sent.

As part of the fund­ing plan, the largely ur­ban State Water Project agen­cies that re­ceive delta sup­plies de­cided that they can buy or lease other dis­tricts’ in­ter­est in WaterFix.

MWD as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Roger Pat­ter­son, who at­tended the 10-minute Kern meet­ing, said his agency has been talk­ing to Kern and other State Water Project con­trac­tors about pos­si­ble deals.

The MWD staff would have to re­turn to its board for ap­proval of any agree­ment to fi­nance more than the 26% share the MWD agreed to this week.

Kern “es­sen­tially said we’re in at this level,” Pat­ter­son said, call­ing the board’s ac­tion “a pos­i­tive sign.”

Rich Pedroncelli As­so­ci­ated Press

WATER f lows through an ir­ri­ga­tion canal to crops near Le­moore, Calif. WaterFix is a ma­jor pri­or­ity of the Brown ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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