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San Diego County Water Authority Mulls Bay Delta Project

Evening Edition

Aired 9/12/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guests

Jerry Meral, Deputy Secretary, California Natural Resources Agency

Dennis Cushman, Assistant General Manager, San Diego County Water Authority.

Transcript

Aired 9/12/13 on KPBS News.

San Diego County Water Authority officials are considering how the huge Bay Delta plan in Northern California will affect our water supply. A public meeting will be held Thursday in San Diego.

State water officials are in San Diego this week talking about a major water supply project: the Bay Delta Conservation Project.

water.ca.gov

Governor Jerry Brown says the Bay Delta Conservation Project is needed to secure California's water supply.

The plan has a duel purpose: to make water transfers from the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta to Southern California more reliable and to restore the Delta's threatened environment.

But it's an understatement to say that not everyone is sold on the $25 billion project, which includes building two 30-mile long tunnels underneath the Delta to make water delivery easier.

That's why officials are lobbying local water districts, which are trying to assess the benefit for them.

San Diego gets about 20% of its water supply from the Bay Delta via the Metropolitan Water District, the largest of the state water contractors that buy water from the Bay Delta. State officials say that could work out to about $5 a month per household. The environmental restoration elements will be paid for by future state bond acts.

Local water officials are skeptical and have a lot of questions regarding financing the project.

The San Diego County Water Authority believes the project could cost San Diegans up to $2 billion.

"When you look at what MWD has done with the water rates over the last ten years, they're doubled them. And this adds $200 to an acre foot for the price we pay, our rates will go up 37%. We're looking at rates going up another 2/3. So it's a pretty significant cost. It's more than a billion dollar decision facing San Diego ratepayers, and a multibillion dollar decision facing the Metropolitan Water District," said Dennis Cushman, Assistant General Manager at SDCWA.

Cushman says about 70% of the water from the Delta goes to agricultural customers and he would like to see them pay their fair share.

Jerry Meral, Deputy Secretary of the state's Natural Resource Agency says details on the financing part of the project are still being work out.

"The arrangements of financing for this between the state, federal and the urban and agricultural water users is still being developed. Right now, we're very concentrating on just what the plan looks like, the environmental elements, the tunnels, location, and so on. They are right to have those questions. We have to have answers, and we can't expect the water authority to make decisions without that kind of information," he said.

A new report details the economic benefits of the project.

Meanwhile, despite changes to the project there's still opposition in Northern California over environmental concerns.

The discussion over the Bay Delta comes as the SDCWA continues to work on diversify San Diego's water portfolio. The Carlsbad desalination plant is scheduled to go online in 2016 and the raising of the San Vicente Reservoir is almost complete.

"Twenty years ago, we imported 95% of all water we used in San Diego County. And we've reduced our purchases in the district from 1991 to the current day by more than half," said Cushman.

Construction on the project is slated to start in 2017.

A public forum will be held Thursday from 4 - 5:30 p.m. at Ashford University in Kearny Mesa.

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