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Adventures in Wonderland with the CWC

From hours of tedious briefings from the California Water Commission (CWC), it is always possible to extract a few interesting tidbits.  That is the case with the March 16 meeting.

Let’s recall that the reason why the CWC was awakened from its 10-year slumber was to spend $3 billion in continuous appropriations from the Water Bond (still not approved by voters) “for public benefits associated with water storage projects that improve the operation of the state water system, are cost effective, and provide a net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions.”

This involves consulting with the Department of Fish and Game to quantify ecosystem benefits and consulting with the State Water Resources Control Board to quantify water quality benefits.

Can the CWC adopt regulations for a law that does not yet exist?  Counsel assured them that they have “broad authority” to do that.

Commissioners Cogdill and Delfino were both concerned about whether the agencies have the resources to do what the legislation requires.  Scott Cantrell of DFG said his agency would need to redirect existing staff, but he assured the Commission that there are resources within the current budget.

Vicky Whitney, a Water Board substitute representative who arrived late, was less reassuring. It is almost worth watching the whole webcast to see Whitney get snippy with Senator Cogdill as he questions her about the Water Board’s commitment to providing the Commission with the information they need.  The can do it, she says, but “not without some cost to something we are already working on.”  We’re betting the Water Board won’t send her to fill in again.

(You can find this exchange at right around the 2-hour point in the webcast.)

A DWR staff member presented a PowerPoint on “Task Order – Economic Tools and Methods to Quantify Public Benefits.”  Yes, it isn’t too soon to begin working on a task order for evaluating the types of projects that can be funded by the bond that hasn’t been approved.  The objective is to produce regulations and guidelines by this time next year.

Commissioner Ball:  What’s the cost?

Answer: $200,000

Staff member Sue Sims: We have found unspent Prop 84 funding.  We will confirm it can be used to develop this work.  We can add the task order to the existing contract with CH2MHill.

Commissioner Del Bosque: Do you think CH2MHill is the most qualified?

Commissioner Curtin: When you have competition, you get a more innovative approach to things.  I’m a little worried about the “in house” nature of the assignment.  (We aren’t the only ones who have noticed that CH2MHill has become a sort of de facto branch of DWR.)

Chair Saracino: Having negotiated contracts in the past, I know that if we have any hope of getting it done this year, we don’t have time to go through a request-for-proposal process.

So the Commission voted to proceed with giving CH2MHill yet another task under its existing contract, paying them with bond funds sold to the voters to be used for things like safe drinking water and flood control.

In other CWC business, Mark Cowin addressed the Commission on the subject of SWP personnel challenges.  There is, he said, a disconnect between the task of the SWP and the collective bargaining relationship of its employees.  There was general agreement regarding the need to raise compensation for the classifications needed to operate the SWP.  Even then, said Cowin, the SWP will need years to get back up to speed.

But never mind that the state can’t operate the infrastructure it has.  Let’s build some more anyway!

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