By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

Water rights permits issued for Conjunctive Use Project


Last updated 12/6/2018 at 12:25pm

The State Water Resources Control Board issued updated water rights permits and an updated license which finalizes that part of the Santa Margarita Conjunctive Use Project.

The three permits and the license were issued Nov. 20.

"It's a big accomplishment to finally have the underlying permits and water rights for the project," said Fallbrook Public Utility District general manager Jack Bebee.

The Santa Margarita Conjunctive Use Project being pursued by FPUD, Camp Pendleton and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will enhance groundwater recharge and recovery capability within the lower Santa Margarita River basin and develop a program which will increase available water supplies for FPUD and Camp Pendleton.

Facilities within the lower basin will be constructed to capture additional surface runoff, which currently flows to the Pacific Ocean, during high stream flow periods. The surface water will be recharged through existing groundwater ponds and stored in groundwater basins during wet years while being "banked" for water rights statistics. The water will be used to augment supplies during dry years, which will reduce the reliance on imported water provided from San Diego County Water Authority sources.

The Conjunctive Use Project will include improvements to the diversion works, increased capacity to the headgate and the O'Neill Ditch, improvements to seven existing recharge ponds, installation of new groundwater production wells and gallery wells, water treatment at either an existing or an expanded or new water treatment plant, and a bidirectional pipeline which could deliver water to FPUD while also providing the Marine Corps with an off-base water supply should conditions warrant.

A state engineer looking for potential reservoir sites identified one in Fallbrook in 1924, just after the Fallbrook Public Utility District formed in 1922, and 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.

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. The following year, however, 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 U.S. Senator and Ron Packard's first bill as a U.S. Congressman. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House Environmental Committee.

The bill was re-introduced 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 to provide 6,000 acre-feet of local water. The plans for the dam have been replaced with the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project.

The state permits and license will allow construction to proceed.

"It's been a process that's taken us 50 years to get there," Bebee said.

The water rights permits replace those previously issued.

"Permits that were originally for the dam were revised for this project as well as the existing license Camp Pendleton has," Bebee said. "We're on that license. It's shared ownership."

The permit does not change the quantity of water FPUD and Camp Pendleton will receive under the Conjunctive Use Permit agreement.

"It's basically just the step from the state," Bebee said. "The state has issued us the water rights."

The amount of water obtained will depend on weather conditions. FPUD will not receive any water in the event of an extreme drought. The minimum water delivery to FPUD will be 580 acre-feet for a very dry hydrological year, 1,300 acre-feet for a below-normal year, 3,100 acre-feet for a normal year (based on the average over the past 50 years), 5,120 acre-feet for an above-normal year, and 6,320 acre-feet for a very wet year. A potential additional allocation of 400 acre-feet is possible, and FPUD also has the first right of refusal for excess water sold rather than used by Camp Pendleton which could provide FPUD with up to 1,500 additional acre-feet annually while also providing Camp Pendleton with revenue for operations and maintenance.

The Camp Pendleton infrastructure will include piping to deliver the water to the boundary of the Naval Weapons Station and Fallbrook behind the FPUD solar facility site on Alturas Road. Construction of the facilities from the NWS boundary is FPUD's responsibility. The water will be treated at the Alturas Road plant and delivered into FPUD's distribution system.

FPUD's board certified the Environmental Impact Report for the project in September 2016. In January 2017 FPUD's board authorized an application for a State Revolving Fund loan from the State Water Resources Control Board to construct the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project. The loan will be for $45,000,000 and will be repaid over 20 years at an interest rate of approximately 1.6 percent.

The FPUD cost consists of $27.7 million for a groundwater treatment plant, $5.5 million for a distribution system to the Gheen Zone east of Stage Coach Lane, $7.9 million for the Gheen Pump Station and a storage tank along with piping, $1.8 million for construction management and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system integration, and $2 million for contingency. The Camp Pendleton cost estimate is $47 million, and construction of facilities on the base has commenced.

In December 2017 FPUD's board authorized a settlement agreement on the water rights litigation between the United States and FPUD. The State Water Resources Control Board draft water rights permit was released June 4, and four weeks later FPUD submitted comments to clarify some of the reporting and diversion accounting.

FPUD's construction phase will take approximately two years to complete.

"We're pre-qualifying contractors right now," Bebee said. "It will probably be March-April when we receive bids from contractors on the project."

FPUD's board voted 5-0, July 23 to approve a construction management services contract with Terrapin Group for up to $1,853,740. Terrapin Group will handle day-to-day oversight of the general contractor.

"It's progressing as we anticipated to get this project done," Bebee said.


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