Despite local opposition from environmentalists and a resolution introduced at L.A. City Council urging its defeat, the Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors voted in favor of building two large pipes to distribute water to Southern California from northern parts of the state.
The project, California WaterFix, has a budget of approximately $17 billion, $4.3 billion of which would be supported by Southern California. It would include two tunnels approximately 150 feet below ground to deliver water south from the Sacramento River under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, designed to protect against disruptions to the water supply due to events such as earthquakes.
But adverse environmental impacts, goals to increase local water supply and effects on local water bills are a few of the concerns raised by city officials opposing the project. L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, introduced a resolution to the City Council on Oct. 6 asking the city to oppose the project.
“The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, hub of California’s water supply, is facing major challenges, including aging levees, increased urbanization, ecosystem degradation, a lack of fresh water and a reduced and inconsistent annual snowpack, sea-level rise and flooding resulting from climate disruption,” according to the resolution.
MWD praised the vote as the “biggest water decision of this generation” in a news release.
“Every generation of Southern Californians has to reinvest in our water system to ensure a reliable water future,” said Randy Record, chairman of the Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors. “[This] marks one of those historic votes that reaffirms that commitment and vision. We simply must modernize and improve the reliability of our imported supplies as well as meet the needs of growth by developing more local supplies and extending conservation.”
MWD’s 38 member board voted 28-6 in favor of the project, with two abstentions and two members absent. Three of Los Angeles’ five representatives on the board voted against it, and Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his opposition on Tuesday.
The mayor said in a statement that he had “serious concerns about the share of the cost Angelenos would shoulder.”
“I am committed to working with Governor Brown and MWD toward a solution that not only meets the state’s reliability needs, but also protects the environment and L.A.’s ratepayers,” Garcetti said.
The other no votes were cast by two representatives from San Diego and one from Santa Monica, highlighting the urban versus suburban and rural divide on the project.
Proponents argue that the state’s water infrastructure needs to be upgraded, and the WaterFix would provide a safeguard against costly disruptions to the water supply that could lead to job loss, and higher prices for food and water. They also say it will include environmental protections.
“Given our size, Metropolitan is the anchor tenant for any successful California WaterFix, and this vote puts us on record as being ready and willing to participate,” Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said. “We still have a ways to go before we have a final, fully funded project, but this vote keeps WaterFix on the path to finding a viable and lasting solution.”
City Controller Ron Galperin raised concern about a potential increase of the Metropolitan Water District’s 26 percent share of the project. He mentioned the Westlands Water District, which voted last month against participating in the WaterFix, as reason why the Metropolitan Water District might be asked to pay a larger portion of the costs.
“To safeguard ratepayers from being required to write a blank check to cover shifting costs, any agreement by MWD should cap WaterFix participation at 26% of the project’s costs and provide assurances that the property tax rate will not be raised to fund the project, without taxpayer approval,” Galperin wrote in a Medium post the day before the vote. “It is unfair to expect ratepayers or property owners to shoulder the burden of WaterFix costs without a clear understanding of how this project will best benefit Angelenos.”
Food and Water Watch, one of the advocacy groups that opposed the WaterFix, issued a statement calling it “unfair to raise rates for a project that will needlessly make Southern California’s water more expensive, while benefiting corporate agribusinesses that grow excessive amounts of almonds and pistachios in the desert for export.”
“We commend Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for opposing the project and a majority of his appointees on the Metropolitan board for voting against it,” according to the statement by one of the group’s organizers, Brenna Norton.
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