Water wholesaler postpones vote on local support for California WaterFix

Zone 7 board decides to wait until final environmental report is released

Moved by pleas from constituents in a crowded meeting room, the Zone 7 Water Agency board Wednesday decided to postpone a vote on a resolution indicating local support for the California WaterFix until a final environmental report is complete.

The board voted 6-1 to wait until further environmental and financial impacts had been announced before voting, which is expected to be closer to September. Board member Bill Stevens voted against the measure, saying he prefered board members make their opinions public now.

"We are listening to you folks. We are," board president Sarah Palmer said.

The board room was packed -- with standing room only -- with about 50 people. Twenty-one people addressed the board, all urging them to vote against local support or to wait to vote until more information was revealed.

The resolution would have indicated symbolic support for the California WaterFix, a state project to build two large pipelines to move water from the California Delta to Southern California, dropping off water at various participating water agencies. Overall, the project is expected to cost $15 billion, and Zone 7 would have to pay about $8.5 million a year for its share.

While the resolution being considered didn't dedicate additional Zone 7 funds to the California WaterFix, it would have given the board's nod of approval that could suggest further support. Not all board members were ready to promise that support without clearer data.

"I can't vote for something in which we don't have all the information. I don't think that's responsible," board member Angela Ramirez Holmes said.

Zone 7, which sells water to Tri-Valley water providers including the Dublin San Ramon Services District, receives 80% of its water supply from the State Water Project, and the California WaterFix would tie in with that project.

At current estimates, Zone 7 would be expected to pay $8.5 million a year until 2028 if the board later agreed to pay its share of the project. That cost would dip to $6.5 million a year after about 2028 to cover regular maintenance, and the agency would pay that every year it receives water from the State Water Project.

While Zone 7 receives 80% of its water from the State Water Project, it is one of the smallest agencies -- using only 2% of the project's total outflows.

Overall, 50% of the California WaterFix is expected to be paid by agricultural groups, and the other half is expected to be paid by water retailers who participate in the State Water Project. No water agency boards have voted to support the California WaterFix yet, and it's unclear exactly how many groups will decide to buy into the project.

California WaterFix would increase the capacity to move more water to Zone 7 and other agencies in wet years, such as this year. Agency staff said some northern reservoirs have been forced to release water because the aging existing infrastructure isn't large enough to get water flowing to other cities fast enough.

Some board members expressed concern that while the California WaterFix may increase the amount of water Zone 7 receives during wet years, the amount of water allocated during drought years will probably be the same.

"The drought demonstrated that water won't be available all water years, with or without the tunnels," Holmes said.

However, Zone 7 staff noted having extra water during wet years means the agency can pump water back into the underground aquifer, which acts as regional storage and which can be tapped into during dry years.

"Capturing the big flows that are coming down is our last hope," board member Sandy Figuers said.

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