OCWD Goes to Washington

OCWD Directors Denis Bilodeau and Vicente Sarmiento, OCWD General Manager Mike Markus and Director of Public Affairs Eleanor Torres went to Washington, D.C. in March on a legislative trip to discuss the Prado Basin Feasibility Study, State Revolving Fund (SRF) program, Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program, the GWRS Final Expansion, and updates of the groundwater cleanup efforts in the North and South Basin. These programs are crucial to OCWD’s ability to fund critical water infrastructure that is beneficial to a safe and reliable water supply in Orange County.

They met with Congressmen Luis (Lou) Correa (D-Santa Ana), Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa); Theodore A. Brown, chief of planning, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; John Glennon, majority legislative assistant, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; Alexis Segal, legislative assistant to Senator Dianne Feinstein; Joe Sheehy, legislative director to Congresswoman Grace Napolitano; Ian Foley, appropriations legislative assistant to House Interior Appropriations for Congressman Ken Calvert; Kevin Chang, legislative assistant to Senator Kamala Harris; Alexander Lee, legislative assistant to Congresswoman Mimi Walters; and Jordan Dorfman, attorney advisor, WIFIA Division, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Prado Basin, which OCWD oversees in Riverside County, is a prime example of integrated regional water management that includes flood risk management, stormwater capture for groundwater recharge, and ecosystem restoration. They are ecologically linked and each ultimate success depends on the success of the group.

The Prado Basin Feasibility Study is a multi-purpose study of environmental restoration and water conservation and includes stormwater capture (water conservation) at Prado, which helps the Orange County Groundwater Basin recover from drought and reduces the need for imported water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently granted OCWD a minor and a major deviation, increasing stormwater capture behind Prado Dam. These enabled the District to capture all of the stormwater from recent rainstorms—more than 20,000 acre feet.

OCWD has asked for deviations to remain in effect through OCWD’s water year ending May 31 and to consider keeping the major deviation of 505 amsl (above means sea level) as the norm.

The State Revolving Fund (SRF) is a loan program that is the sole federal program of assistance to support local communities’ water and wastewater infrastructure. The program in California is currently oversubscribed and has a backlog of agencies waiting for its use. An increase in appropriations and an update of the allocation formula to better reflect the actual needs of states as assessed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 2013 Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment is seen as necessary to fund projects. OCWD’s interests include funding the Groundwater Replenishment System Final Expansion to 130 million gallons per day of potable reused water. The $253.8 million project is proposed for construction from 2019-2022.

The District relies heavily on SRF low-interest loans to fund capital projects.  OCWD could not have built the GWRS Initial Expansion (a $142 million project completed in 2015 that added 30 million gallons per day of advanced purified reused water) without SRF funding.

There is a current threat of replacing, rather than supplementing, the SRF with the WIFIA program. WIFIA makes available $17 million in budget authority to cover the subsidy cost of providing WIFIA credit assistance through April 10, 2017. If the credit quality of projects is very high, the EPA may extend as much as $2 billion in credit assistance. Therefore, the $17 million can support a total of $2 to $4 billion in water infrastructure investment. The maximum amount is 49 percent of the reasonably anticipated eligible project costs and there are other stipulations. There is a great need for both funding programs.

OCWD looks forward to working on these programs that will increase long-term water reliability for the region.