SACRAMENTO — Final ground rules for applying for Proposition 1 water bond funds for large storage projects place a big emphasis on how much they’ll help the beleaguered Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
The California Water Commission on Dec. 14 adopted regulations for handing out the $2.7 billion for reservoirs and other storage projects set aside in the $7.5 billion ballot measure approved by voters in 2014.
The commission made few changes from a final draft sent out for public comment in late November, assuring that projects will be graded largely on their role in improving flows and water quality in the Delta.
At least half of the bond funds given to a project would need to go toward ecosystem improvements directly related to the Delta, commission spokesman Chris Orrock has explained.
“We’re excited that we got these regulations adopted when we did,” Orrock said after the commission’s 8-0 vote, noting the panel faced a statutory deadline of Dec. 15.
The guidelines have been sent to the state Office of Administrative Law, which has 30 days to approve them and make them official.
The next step for the water commission will be to start accepting applications for funding, which it will do in the first half of 2017. The panel will determine the eligibility of projects and prioritize them late next year and likely determine funding sometime in 2018, Orrock said.
The commission’s emphasis on helping the Delta comes as the 1,150-square-mile labyrinth of islands and shallow waterways faces a slew of environmental problems, including pollution, silting, invasive plant species and saltwater intrusion.
Projects can benefit the Delta by providing more cold water that would aid the salmon run while flushing out pollutants and intruding saltwater, Orrock has said.
Among anticipated suitors are backers of the proposed $3.6 billion Sites Reservoir near Maxwell, who have lined up 34 agency participants, and supporters of the proposed $2.5 billion Temperance Flat Reservoir near Fresno. Others could include sponsors of the planned expansion of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County as well as groundwater improvement projects near Delta tributaries.
Proposition 1 will fund no more than half the cost of the project, and water bond funds can only be used for public benefits, which the initiative defines as ecosystem improvements, water quality improvements, flood control benefits, emergency response and recreational purposes.
Orrock said the final draft of the guidelines generated 13 unique comment letters, seven of which voiced support for the documents as written.