Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Meeting held on Santa Margarita project, Environmental, feasibility studies expected in late 2009

The United States Bureau of Reclamation sent representatives to the Fallbrook Public Utility District (FPUD) board room for an October 29 meeting on the planned Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project.

The community meeting, which was attended by more than 50 people, provided information on the project and its upcoming environmental study phases and also solicited input from the public.

“This is an information meeting. This is not a final NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] process,” said Bill Steele, the area manager for the Temecula office of the Bureau of Reclamation.

A draft environmental document is scheduled to be released in June. The schedule also calls for a feasibility study to be conducted next spring, which will determine the project’s financial feasibility.

The final Environmental Impact Report is expected next December.

The Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project would use natural and enhanced flows in the Santa Margarita River to enhance the recharge of groundwater basins and would provide up to 18,000 acre-feet per year for Camp Pendleton and FPUD.

The Santa Margarita Conjunctive Use Project has a total estimated cost of $140 million.

The project would provide for enhanced recharge and recovery from the groundwater basin on Camp Pendleton which would provide a water supply for both Camp Pendleton and FPUD.

The project would also include a seawater intrusion barrier which would use recycled water and a distribution system to deliver water both to FPUD and to the San Diego County Water Authority aqueduct system.

Approximately 1,380 acres of sensitive habitat along the river would be preserved as part of the project.

Several decades ago FPUD purchased land along the Santa Margarita River with the intent of building a dam along the river. FPUD currently plans to use the land as mitigation property for the Conjunctive Use Project.

The Bureau of Reclamation is investigating the possibility of taking over management of that land from FPUD.

The management of the groundwater basins would provide FPUD with 4,000 to 6,500 acre-feet per year of new supply from the Santa Margarita River, or approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of FPUD’s annual need of approximately 16,000 acre-feet.

Most of Camp Pendleton’s current supply is from groundwater pumping; the Marine Corps base obtains approximately 95 percent of its water from the Santa Margarita River basin.

The local supply would protect against cutbacks from the County Water Authority (CWA) if the CWA’s State Water Project or Colorado River allocation is reduced.

The state Department of Water Resources allocates State Water Project supply conservatively and is currently estimating that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, from which the CWA purchases its imported water, will receive 10 to 15 percent of its State Water Project allocation.

The Lower Colorado River states of California, Arizona, and Nevada are allocated 7.5 million acre-feet from the Colorado River, although if the elevation drops the Department of Reclamation can reduce that amount.

The Metropolitan Water District is forecasting a cutback to the CWA of 10 to 20 percent for 2009.

“Local is the main source. That’s the important thing about this project,” Steele said.

Steele also noted that the Conjunctive Use Project will be built into existing infrastructure.

“This is done in the most cost-effective way we can,” he said.

The Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project has its roots in a planned dam which dates back to 1924, two years after FPUD was formed, when a state engineer looking for potential reservoir sites identified one in Fallbrook.

That year also saw a state lawsuit regarding water rights, Santa Margarita y Las Flores (Camp Pendleton was not established until World War II) v. Vail Ranch.

After World War II, the FPUD board decided to pursue building a dam on the Santa Margarita River.

Camp Pendleton officials were concerned that the dam would cut off their water supply, and a joint agreement was reached in 1949.

But elsewhere in the Federal government the agreement was not acceptable, leading to the US v. FPUD suit in Federal court in the early 1950s.

After several rounds of court cases, a memorandum of understanding was signed in 1968 for a two-dam project where Fallbrook would obtain water supply and Camp Pendleton would receive water supply and flood control.

But the following year Congress passed the National Environmental Protection Act, and by the time the documentation for the proposed dam was finished a reorganization of Federal agencies handling water led to an unfunded office from which no documents left.

The passage of the Endangered Species Act forced an update of the original environmental study, which was finally completed in 1983.

The legislation to get the project authorized was Pete Wilson’s first bill as a US Senator and Ron Packard’s first bill as a US Congressman. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House Environmental Committee.

The bill was reintroduced in 1985, but the Reagan Administration wanted the project to be paid out of the Armed Services budget and Congressman Ron Dellums demanded another study of the water supply.

The study, completed in 1988, said that Camp Pendleton should connect to the Metropolitan Water District.

By that time a development in Rancho California was seeking a failsafe way of disposing of livestream discharge of tertiary effluent.

That led to the Four-Party Agreement with FPUD, Camp Pendleton, the Rancho California Water District, and the Eastern Municipal Water District.

After FPUD general manager Gordon Tinker retired in June 1999, Tinker was retained as a consultant by FPUD for matters pertaining to the effort to obtain water from Lake Skinner.

The agreement evolved into the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project, which includes allocating water to Riverside County.

Studies reconstructed the historical flow at the Camp Pendleton delivery point. The average annual flow between 1925 and 2005 has been 35,600 acre-feet with a median flow of 15,400 acre-feet.

The highest flow was 250,000 acre-feet in Water Year 1993 and the lowest was 2,000 acre-feet in Water Year 1961.

The flow has reached at least 15,400 acre-feet in one out of every two years and 25,500 acre-feet in one out of every three years, and the average of 35,600 acre-feet was exceeded 29 percent of the time.

In 2005 the number of route alternatives was reduced from 22 to three.

During the environmental studies, Camp Pendleton and the Bureau of Reclamation will serve as the lead National Environmental Policy Act agencies while FPUD will serve as the lead California Environmental Quality Act agency.

FPUD’s share of the cost is estimated at $60 million, which will be paid back over 40 years if a Bureau of Reclamation loan is authorized by Congress and signed into law.

FPUD expects to spend $11 million during 2008 to purchase imported water.

“The cost per acre foot is less than what we’re going to have to pay Metropolitan Water District,” said FPUD general manager Keith Lewinger.

Other advantages of the project include a conclusive settlement to long-standing litigation involving the Santa Margarita River and the retention of the river habitat.

If the project is not built, heirs of the previous owners will have the first rights to repurchase that property and the land may be converted into uses other than the habitat.

The US Bureau of Reclamation was founded in 1902. Its normal focus is flood control and power rather than water supply.

The Bureau of Reclamation built Hoover Dam and is the water master for the Lower Colorado River. It also provides loans to local water agencies.

In the early 1980s, FPUD obtained a loan for the Red Mountain Reservoir, which cost $11 million and has a capacity of 1,335 acre-feet.

(In 1988 the Bureau of Reclamation gave FPUD the opportunity to buy out the loan, FPUD sold general obligation bonds and used the bond to pay off the balance of the loan at a discount of essentially 42 cents on the dollar, and the bond was paid off ten years later.)

In 1970, the De Luz Heights Municipal Water District (which merged with FPUD in 1990) obtained an interest-free “Small Projects Loan” of $5.5 million to provide a line from the nearest Metropolitan Water District connection six miles away.

The current legislation which would authorize a loan to FPUD is HR 29, which was introduced by Representative Darrell Issa.

HR 29 passed the House of Representatives during the 2007-08 Congressional session but has not been heard by the US Senate, which may reconvene prior to the January 3 end of the Senators’ terms and could possibly address HR 29.

The bill allows the US Secretary of the Interior to authorize construction of the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project after FPUD and the Department of the Navy have entered into contracts to repay equitable and appropriate portions to the United States, state Bureau of Reclamation permits have been issued for FPUD and the Department of the Navy, FPUD waives any prior claims of water rights in excess of the agreed amount, and the Secretary of the Interior determines that the project has economic, environmental, and engineering feasibility.

HR 29 stipulates that upon completion of the project the Department of the Navy will repay the portion of the construction, operation, and maintenance costs determined to reflect the extent to which Camp Pendleton benefits from the project while FPUD would repay its fair portion, and a memorandum of agreement between the Department of the Navy, FPUD, and the Secretary of the Interior will determine whether the project will be operated by the Department of the Interior, FPUD, or a mutually-agreed third party.

The agreement would allocate 60 percent of the project’s yield to the Department of the Navy and 40 percent to FPUD, although if Camp Pendleton does not have an immediate need for the entirety of its portion temporary contracts for the sale and delivery of the excess water may be executed and FPUD would have the first right to any excess water.

Issa had introduced the legislation in 2005 as HR 125, but that was not adopted during the 2005-06 Congressional session.

The project has already received some state and CWA funding. In November 2002 the state’s voters approved Proposition 50, which authorized the spending of $3.4 billion for projects involving fresh water and coastal resources.

Chapter 8 of Proposition 50 authorizes up to $500 million for integrated regional water management (IRWM) planning and implementation grants.

Following the passage of Proposition 50, the CWA board authorized the agency’s general manager to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego to form a regional water management group which would lead the IRWM effort in the San Diego region.

In July 2007, the CWA board authorized the submittal of the San Diego region’s application for the second round of funding. The grant awards were announced in June 2008 and included $2,642,337 for the Santa Margarita Conjunctive Use Project.

The $2.6 million grant is in addition to an $850,000 grant FPUD received last year from the CWA for development of local supply.

In July 2006, the San Diego County Water Authority board directed SDCWA staff to initiate the process to create the Local Investigations and Studies Assistance (LISA) program which would facilitate studies and investigations of local supply opportunities by providing grant funding of up to $750,000 per project per agency.

The overall goal of the LISA program is to fund local groundwater, desalination, and recycling studies and investigations which would lead to new local supply or increased dry-year supplies.

Eligible studies and investigations include early project development activities such as feasibility studies and subsequent project development up to and including preparation of environmental impact documents for the full-scale project.

The LISA program does not fund detailed design, construction, or operation activities.

On June 28, 2007, the County Water Authority approved five funding agreements, including $850,000 for the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project (because both FPUD and Camp Pendleton were involved, the project was eligible for a LISA grant of up to $1.5 million).

While the LISA grant does not allow for construction costs, FPUD can use the $2.6 million IRWM grant for any phase of the project.

FPUD plans to continue to pay for ongoing environmental and design work, and any balance after the environmental and design expenses are completed would be applied to FPUD’s share of the construction costs.

Although the current drought has triggered a 30 percent cutback for agricultural customers, both agricultural users and municipal and industrial (M&I) customers pay a monthly charge for fixed expenses as well as for the cost of water purchased, so FPUD would be able to finance the Conjunctive Use Project costs even if the agricultural cuts continue.

The feasibility study for the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project will determine whether the project is cost-effective, and two other projects are also under consideration to bring more water to FPUD and Camp Pendleton. Feasibility studies are under way for both a potential seawater desalination plant on Camp Pendleton and for the CWA’s Pipeline 6 planned project.

The seawater desalination plant would provide desalinated water to the San Diego County Water Authority, the Municipal Water District of Orange County, and Camp Pendleton.

If it is built is would provide 50 million to 100 million gallons per day of desalinated water.

In November 2005 the San Diego County Water Authority, in conjunction with the Municipal Water District of Orange County, approved a consultant contract with RBF Consulting to conduct a detailed feasibility study for a potential seawater desalination plant on Camp Pendleton.

The feasibility study includes detailed feasibility evaluations of conveyance, intake, and discharge and is expected to be complete in late 2008.

Integration of the Conjunctive Use Project infrastructure into the desalination plant infrastructure has not yet been addressed.

The CWA’s Urban Water Management Plan calls for 89,600 acre-feet of desalinated water by 2030.

A planned desalination plant in Carlsbad is currently in the permitting process, and the State Lands Commission directed that the project must be “carbon-neutral.”

The prohibition against any additional net carbon emissions will likely also apply to the Camp Pendleton plant when it is ready for the permitting stage.

The Conjunctive Use Project is not likely to be subject to the carbon neutrality requirement imposed on desalination plants whose desalination and conveyance pumping processes are likely to use more energy than the current conveyance of State Water Project supplies over the Tehachapi Mountains.

“We’re actually going to be saving energy,” Lewinger said, noting that the Conjunctive Use Project will reduce the need to pump water from Northern California over the Tehachapi Mountains.

Pipeline 6 is expected to carry between 470 and 630 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water and would connect Lake Skinner in Temecula with the County Water Authority’s Twin Oaks Diversion Structure.

The 470-630 cfs rate equates to between 300 and 400 million gallons per day (mgd), which would increase the CWA’s imported water pipeline capacity by 45 percent.

Pipeline 6 is expected to be an untreated water pipeline, which would allow the conversion of an existing untreated water pipeline to a treated water pipeline and increase treated water capacity from about 600 cfs to 900 cfs and untreated water capacity from less than 800 cfs to about 1,000 cfs.

The total length of Pipeline 6 would be approximately 31 miles.

The north reach of Pipeline 6 serves Temecula and covers the first seven miles between Lake Skinner and Anza Road. It was opened in late 2006.

The southern portion is expected to be needed between 2018 and 2023.

The Metropolitan Water District will be responsible for the segment between Anza Road and the MWD delivery point, which is approximately six miles south of the Riverside County/San Diego County line, while the CWA will be responsible for constructing the segment between the MWD delivery point and the Twin Oaks Diversion Structure.

In December 2007, the CWA board approved a consultant contract for MWH Americas, Inc., to prepare a feasibility and alignment study for Pipeline 6.

Environmental mitigation measures for the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project include an inflatable dam, which can be removed during periods of high water and thus reduce impact to fish species, and an advance treatment plant.

The final Environmental Impact Report will be followed by a Record of Decision, which is expected in 2010.

The Bureau of Reclamation is planning a four-year construction process, although if full funding is available the technological work can take place in two and a half years.

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