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$2.7 billion bond fund to build water reservoirs sits idle in California

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It’s been seven years since drought-wracked California raked in $2.7 billion in bond funds that promised construction of reservoirs to capture excess water runoff during winters.

The money is sitting in a bank account without a single shovel of dirt overturned to begin construction of eight above-ground water holding facilities. Meanwhile, governors and local politicians over the years have called for urban water cutbacks and even rationing for farmers who have watched crops wither and die due to decreased water supply.

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All of this is due to the state’s bureaucratic controls that cause major construction projects to take decades to complete. This dichotomy is starkly apparent at the nation’s tallest dam, Oroville, which is at its lowest level ever, with only one-third of its water supply remaining. 

The water level is so low that the dam is no longer a source of electricity as its turbines have shut off — meanwhile, Californians grapple with rolling blackouts as its overworked power grid can’t keep up with the demand of hot summers.

This combo of satellite images provided by Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies shows intake gates at Lake Oroville in California on June 5, 2020 (top) and intake gates at Lake Oroville on Aug. 4, 2021. Drought-stricken California has shut down one of its largest hydroelectric plants because there’s not enough water to power it. The six-turbine Edward Hyatt Power Plant was taken off-line Thursday, Aug. 5 after the water level in the Oroville Dam reservoir that feeds it sank to an historic low. ( Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies via AP) AP

“That money is held up because of environmental permitting,” said Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen, who has the Oroville Dam in his district. “The construction [overseers] said it will be six more years before we have water in that lake. Meanwhile, not one gallon of water has been placed in above-ground storage pursuant to this bond measure.”

Nielsen was the driving force behind Prop. 1 in 2014, a ballot measure sold to voters as a $7.5 billion necessity to alleviate California’s water woes. Storage facilities are the largest portion of the bond, which includes other projects such as water recycling, groundwater sustainability, and drinking water safety. 

The senator recently held a press conference at the edge of the dam to push Gov. Gavin Newsom to cut through the bureaucracy.

“Gov. Newsom and the Democrats running this state should be ashamed,” Nielsen added. “They fast track through environmental regulations to build sports stadiums but refuse to do the same when it comes to infrastructure projects that would protect the livelihoods, health, and safety of Californians. That’s unconscionable.”

For example, a new arena for the Los Angeles Clippers was fast-tracked through the lengthy environmental process with help from the Legislature and signed off by Newsom in record time — less than two years. Other sports venues for the Los Angeles Chargers and Golden State Warriors were built in about five years.

Republican House member Doug LaMalfa, whose district includes the dam, has been critical of the state’s policy of releasing water from Oroville into rivers to help fish populations. The water eventually ends up in the ocean.

“By failing to observe the most obvious thing, that we didn’t get much rain or snow this year, the state and the governor continued to direct his bureaucracy to expend a limited water supply throughout the winter and spring and did nothing to save critical water for this fall,” LaMalfa said in a statement.

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LaMalfa has assisted in obtaining additional federal funding for the water projects: a $449 million loan from the USDA and $27 million from Congress to pay for the studies. LaMalfa also tried to obtain an additional $1 billion in the current budget negotiations but was unsuccessful, his office said.

“We seem to have plenty of money for the green new deal, but we don’t have money to actually provide water that people need?” LaMalfa said in a statement.

Lisa Lien-Mager, Deputy Secretary for Communications at the California Natural Resource Agency, told the Washington Examiner: "Voter-approved Prop 1 is very prescriptive about the process for awarding the $2.7 billion for water storage projects. There are specific requirements for project proponents such as securing funding from non-Prop 1 sources and completing feasibility studies. Federal permits also are required in some cases. 

"This is unlike the Clippers stadium, for which the Legislature passed a special project-specific law expediting project review. While the Newsom Administration continues to explore all options to bring drought solutions on line as quickly as possible, including through executive action where appropriate, we are focused on expediting emergency projects that can help communities this year as well as near-term and longer-term projects that can be funded through the $5.1 billion investment in drought and water resilience enacted as part of the Governor’s California Comeback plan.

 

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Tags: News, California, Gavin Newsom, Drought

Original Author: Tori Richards

Original Location: $2.7 billion bond fund to build water reservoirs sits idle in California

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