In a puzzling decision, the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California seems to have overridden a board committee and the board’s staff and decided to sit out the argument over HR1837, Rep. Devin Nunes’ legislation to revamp California water distribution. If you’re not into the arcana of California water
wars policy discussions, you can skip this post.
I haven’t seen any press coverage of this and I’m only looking at it from afar, so I may be missing something, but it’s a bit of a puzzling decision. Met’s Communications and Legislation Committee recommended the board oppose the legislation unless it’s amended, as did Met staff.
From Met’s perspective the problem, according to a report delivered to the board (see below for links to various materials I’m quoting), is that by ensuring water deliveries to customers of the federal Central Valley Project, the bill could leave State Water Project customers (and therefore Met) on the hook for meeting environmental flow requirements:
The measure’s intent is to improve water supply reliability through providing relief to the CVP and its contractors from regulatory and other requirements of the CVPIA, the FESA and the provisions of California law. These provisions would substantially reduce obligations currently imposed on the CVP to meet environmental objectives in the Bay-Delta. The bill also proposes to similarly reduce obligations on California’s SWP for its obligations under both federal and California law. However, it is not clear that H.R. 1837, as drafted, legally can limit the SWP’s obligations under state law. If it cannot limit California’s jurisdiction to regulate the SWP, any reduction in CVP obligations could potentially be shifted to SWP contractors, including Metropolitan.
More importantly, the bill explicitly aims to eliminate the need for a Delta conveyance. Met really wants a Delta conveyance, so in this respect 1837 seems, from the point of view of the recommendation delivered to the board, to very much run counter to Met’s interests.
This option is contrary to recommendations advanced by the Public Policy Institute of California and numerous economic and environmental experts who have determined that the Delta is unsustainable under a status quo scenario. Worsening environmental conditions, significant seismic threats to the state’s water supply and degrading water quality conditions — due in part to sea level rise — leave current operations vulnerable to major disruptions and significantly increased costs. The BDCP is designed to address these and other concerns in conformance with California’s law establishing water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration as coequal goals.
The Met staff recommendation:
The provisions of H.R. 1837 are in direct conflict with the collaborative BDCP effort that has been underway since 2006 to develop a long-term plan consistent with the coequal goals of providing water supply reliability and restoring the ecological health of the Bay-Delta.
Because of H.R. 1837’s potential impact on the SWP’s environmental obligations and its water supply and operations and because of the bill’s potential to undermine the success of the BDCP, staff recommends that Metropolitan oppose H.R. 1837 unless it is amended to avoid those potential impacts. At a minimum, two potential amendments should be considered:
(i) Protect SWP supplies by providing that, to the extent H.R. 1837 resulted in the shift in the shared environmental obligations in the Bay-Delta from the CVP to the SWP, the CVP would be required to repay the SWP; and
(ii) Provide that, notwithstanding the terms of the bill, H.R. 1837 will not affect the Secretary of the Interior’s or Secretary of Commerce’s responsibility or authority as it exists on the date of enactment to approve the BDCP as a habitat conservation plan under FESA.
Since those are essentially deal-killers for the bill (I think), it’s for all practical purposes a recommendation that the board oppose 1837.
(updated to clarify) The board subcommittee voted to oppose outright.(end update)
The board apparently disagreed. Folks from Orange County and San Diego led a board coalition that instead voted to “watch” the bill, expressing neither support nor opposition.
Sadly, I don’t have Microsoft Silverlight on this box, so I haven’t had a chance to watch the video of the meeting yet. No doubt those in favor of sitting on the sidelines have thoughtful arguments. (If anyone was there, or has a chance to watch it, please add what you know in the comments.)
The staff and committee reports, along with link to the video, are on the 3/13 agenda, item 8-14 near the bottom.