Environment & Science

Water agencies chase billions in California Prop 1 project money

The California Aqueduct at Mendota, California on March 11, 2009.  The Aqueduct carries water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta in the north to farms and cities in the central and southern part of the state.
The California Aqueduct at Mendota, California on March 11, 2009. The Aqueduct carries water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta in the north to farms and cities in the central and southern part of the state.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

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State officials this week unveiled a dozen water storage project proposals competing for $2.7 billion dollars of state money. It’s part of the much larger $7.5 billion Prop 1 water bond that California voters approved in 2014.

Two Southern California water agencies are asking for more than a half-billion dollars in Prop 1 funds for projects that would store water underground.

The Inland Empire Utilities Agency wants to develop 1 million acre feet of unused underground water storage space in a giant aquifer known as the Chino Basin in San Bernardino County.

The agency is requesting $480 million Prop 1 dollars to fund a water treatment plant and distribution pipelines that could put to 15,000 acre-feet per year of water into storage in the Chino groundwater basin. An acre foot of water is about the amount two households use in one year. The basin has 1 million acre feet of available water storage space,  enough water to fill the Rose Bowl 20 times over.

A key criteria for the winning projects is that they provide some benefit to the waters and ecosystem of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. Projects outside the Delta area could still be approved if they reduce reliance on water that might come from there, said Armando Quintero, chairman of the California Water Commission, which will award the money.

Not all dozen projects can be funded. They are requesting $5.7 billion worth of aid on a budget of $2.7 billion, Quintero said. The State Water Commission decides who gets the money next year.

In the case of the Chino Basin project, the water stored underground could be provided to users who might otherwise draw water from the Delta or its feed sources.

Irvine Ranch Water District wants $86 million dollars for a water bank. It would soak excess California Aqueduct water onto land the Orange County water retailer owns outside of Bakersfield. General manager Paul Cook says it would be an emergency supply.

“If there was ever an outage on the imported water system, our objective is to have water in the ground that we could then tap and bring to Southern California,” Cook said.

A few other Southern California agencies had submitted preliminary project concept papers several months ago, but decided not to submit applications for the Prop 1 money.

Orange County Water District, which was considering asking for $100 million for a water storage project, did not have its project fully defined in time to apply for the money, said Greg Woodside, OCWD executive director for planning and natural resources. It is pursuing a different water storage project using money Prop 84 funds, he said.

The Water Replenishment District of Southern California was looking at a potential request for $574 million to cover five different groundwater storage projects. Spokesman Pete Brown said the agency plans to seek money for the projects from another source.

Other projects competing for the money include several other groundwater storage projects and six reservoirs or dams such as the Sites Dam proposal for the Sacramento Valley.