OCWD’s Legislative Advocacy = Results
Significant legislative work took place for the Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) during 2018 on both the state and federal levels. Some of the goals of OCWD this year included seeking further credit for advanced purified water recycling within water conservation planning, securing additional funding for the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) final expansion, and research to better enable capturing stormwater a Prado Dam through Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO). The District was very successful in bringing significant funding to the region and advocating to protect investments and water rights. The following are a few highlights:
Early in 2017, the Brown Administration sought legislation to mandate post-2020 long-term conservation requirements on local water districts. After a year of heavy engagement from OCWD staff and consultants, AB 1668 (Friedman D-Glendale) and SB 606 (Hertzberg D- Van Nuys) offered a 10 percent credit for potable reuse. In 2018, the legislation was amended to provide a 15 percent credit to existing potable reuse facilities like the GWRS. This represents a 50 percent increase in the amount of potable reuse water for which the producers will receive credit, and 15 percent was the minimum necessary to safeguard the investments of OCWD and its producers in the GWRS.
OCWD took an “oppose” position to any new state-wide tax on water, including a tax with an opt-out feature, which was in alignment with District water producers. Under Senator Monning’s (D-Carmel) SB 845 Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, local water customers would have had the option to pay the voluntary remittance, opt out, or pay a different amount.
SB 845 (Monning) would have been inefficient and expensive as more than 3,000 water systems were required to change their billing systems and hire staff to implement different practices. Additionally, the intended use of the tax became less pressing after the June 5 vote on Proposition 68. This proposition approved $250 million in general obligation bond funds for safe drinking water, with priority funding for disadvantaged communities. SB 845 died on the last day of session on August 31, but OCWD staff and consultants expect to see a new version of this legislation in the 2019 legislative session.
Another future consideration, SB 1422 California Safe Drinking Water Act: microplastics (Portantino D–La Cañada Flintridge), is a chaptered bill that requires the Water Board to develop a standardized test methodology, accredit environmental labs to analyze samples, and consider notification levels and guidance for purposes of reporting plastics levels to the public. OCWD will monitor the State Water Resources Control Board’s actions regarding implementation of SB 1422.
In mid-July, OCWD Director Vince Sarmiento testified on the District’s behalf before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in Washington, D.C. At the hearing, Director Sarmiento discussed OCWD’s proposed use of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) to assist in the construction of the GWRS final expansion. He expressed support for S. 2800’s incorporation of State Revolving Fund – Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (SRF-WIIN) which could serve as another “tool in the toolbox” to help communities construct vital water facilities.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced a $135 million WIFIA loan award to OCWD to help finance the GWRS final expansion. This low interest loan will save the District approximately $16 million, and the expansion will allow the GWRS to produce 130,000 million gallons of purified water per day.
Additionally, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, received $8 million of funding through the 2019 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, for research into atmospheric rivers. This amount is $7.5 million more funding than originally requested and will aid in maximizing water storage at Prado Dam. The goal of Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) is to update dam water conservation and flood control guidelines in order to improve water safety and environmental outcomes without diminishing flood risk management or dam safety. FIRO is currently being developed and tested as a collaborative effort by the Corps and a range of stakeholders, including OCWD at Prado Dam and on Lake Mendocino in Northern California.
Looking ahead to the upcoming state and federal legislative sessions, OCWD is in the process of updating its Legislative Platform for the 2019-2020 session. The document serves as a road map on how the District will advocate with local government and in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. OCWD’s legislative affairs program is integral to fulfilling its mission and goals. To learn more about OCWD’s legislative platform and activities, visit https://www.ocwd.com/what-we-do/legislative-community-engagement/.