An application for $1 billion of state bond money to build Temperance Flat dam east of Fresno scored a dismal zero from the California Water Commission on the cost-benefit ratio, potentially jeopardizing its construction.
Supporters of the dam expressed shock and dismay and are blaming the commission staff for the low score. They’re got company.
All 11 water project applications from around the state under review by the commission have scored less than one or even zero on their public benefit ratios, said state Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno. That includes the proposed Sites Reservoir project in Northern California.
A score of one or greater is considered the minimum needed to be awarded money.
“It’s clear to me that something is not working in the process,” Arambula said.
The Association of California Water Agencies also complained about the low scores.
“I was surprised to hear that the California Water Commission staff’s preliminary analysis indicated none of the 11 storage projects were worthy of funding,” said Timothy Quinn, executive director of ACWA. “We have reached out to commission staff to better understand their evaluation criteria and hopefully be able to assist our member agencies who are going through the appeals process.”
Chris Orrock, California Water Commission spokesman, said the ratio counts for only one-third of each project.
“It’s a staff recommendation,” Orrock said. “It’s not a decision by the commission.” Additionally, there’s an appeals process, he said.
Scores will be made public Feb. 1 when the nine-member commission holds a three-day meeting, although applicants have already been told what their public benefit ratio score will be.
Proposition 1, approved by voters in 2014, authorizes the sale of $7.5 billion in general obligation bonds to fund water supply projects, ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration, and drinking water protection. Of that, the commission is doling out $2.7 million for water projects by the end of July.
Arambula said he and Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, whose district includes Kings County, met with commission staff Jan. 16 to get a better understanding of why Temperance Flat scored so poorly.
It appears the staff is being cautious in matching information in the application with the language of Proposition 1, Arambula said. “It leads you to say no information has been given,” he said, resulting in the zero score.
In a statement, Salas said he was “disappointed” but believes the score will climb as advocates make their case on appeal.
Mario Santoyo, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority that’s trying to build the $3 billion Temperance Flat dam, said the authority hired an expert to calculate the public benefit ratio. The expert determined it was 2.83, which means that “for every dollar that the state invests, they get a return of 2.83 dollars in value,” he said.
To get a zero from the commission staff made no sense, he said. He met with commission staff Jan. 10.
“We were certainly shocked and unhappy when we heard,” Santoyo said. “It came as a big surprise … We were standing there with our jaws open.”
But the staff said “don’t panic, this will be corrected as you provide us clarity” in the appeals process, Santoyo said.
A possible reason for all the low scores is that the state is using a new process to fund water supply projects that has flummoxed the staff, he said. “There are efforts to change the process, to try to put some common sense to this,” he said.
But Chris Acree of Fresno, executive director of Revive The San Joaquin and an opponent of the dam, said the commission staff made the right call.
“We’ve always said the cost-benefit is not adequate,” Acree said.
Requiring additional conservation on the Valley floor would stretch existing water resources at far less cost that building a new dam, Acree said. In addition, the project would flood a river gorge that has rare Indian archeological sites, he said.