$5 billion dollar project would have no benefit for Fallbrook and Rainbow
FALLBROOK – Over the objections of most water agencies in the San Diego region, including the Fallbrook Public Utility District and Rainbow Municipal Water District, the San Diego County Water Authority has decided to continue pursuing a controversial $5 billion water project that would be paid for by the region’s water customers.
The project, known as the Regional Conveyance System, would result in significantly higher water bills for Fallbrook and Rainbow ratepayers, yet would provide no benefit to them.
“I’ve seen a lot of water projects proposed over my decades in this industry and this is by far the one that has made the least sense,” said FPUD board member Charley Wolk. “Many water leaders across the region have expressed deep concerns about this proposal, and for us in Fallbrook, it makes absolutely no sense because we won’t gain anything – not a single drop of water.”
“This is yet another reason why our two districts are seeking to leave the Water Authority and buy water from the Eastern Municipal Water District,” said Rainbow general manager Tom Kennedy. “With Eastern, not only will we pay less for our water, we won’t be required to pay for projects that don’t benefit us.”
As proposed by the Water Authority, the Regional Conveyance System would build a new, separate, redundant Colorado River Aqueduct to transport water that is currently being transported through an existing Colorado River Aqueduct. The concept proposed by the Authority is the new aqueduct would initially cost a lot more than using the existing aqueduct.
Even if everything went exactly as projected by the Authority, the proposed aqueduct would likely take well over 50 years to begin to cost less than the current system. Not only would current customers be paying for it, it would be passed onto our grandchildren and beyond.
In addition, the Authority would eventually own their own aqueduct, versus using the existing one under an agreement with the Metropolitan Water District, though they would have no guarantee of continued availability of the water that was being transported. The project would involve the construction of 132 miles of canals, pipelines and tunnels from the Colorado River through San Diego’s backcountry.
While customers in the Rainbow and Fallbrook water districts would be required to pay for a share of the cost, and historically FPUD and Rainbow have combined contributed roughly 7% of the total financial contributions to the SDCWA (which is equivalent to $350 million of the $5 billion project), it would provide no water to the districts because they are located too far north.
At the SDCWA board meeting on Nov. 19, only six of the 24 member agencies
voted to keep studying the plan. However, because Water Authority votes are weighted, those six agencies, which include the city of San Diego, represented a majority.
So far, the Water Authority has spent $2.6 million to study the plan. It allocated an
additional $1.7 million at the Nov. 19 meeting bringing the total to $4.3 million.
“For Rainbow customers, every $1 million spent by the Water Authority roughly equates to $5 out of the pocket of every one of our customers,” said Rainbow’s Tom Kennedy, adding “we feel that this is simply a wasteful boondoggle coming at the expense of our customers.”
The SDCWA continues to pursue the plan despite other studies showing the project to be economically infeasible.
The SDCWA's vote comes amid rising concerns about water rates, which have jumped considerably in the San Diego region over the past ten years. In Fallbrook, for example, the SDCWA costs for all the water purchases have gone up by an average of 9% annually over the past 10 years.
These annual increases have prompted the Fallbrook and Rainbow water districts to pursue what is known as detachment, in which they would part ways with the SDCWA and instead purchase their water, at a lower cost, from the Eastern Municipal Water District.
The move would collectively save Fallbrook and Rainbow ratepayers between $8-10 million annually, allowing the districts to freeze or even lower rates for the first time in decades.
The districts’ detachment proposals must first be approved by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, which is governed by local and appointed officials and is responsible for overseeing the establishment, expansion and boundary changes of cities and special districts including water districts.
LAFCO has established an advisory committee to review and analyze the proposals. The full commission is expected to vote on them sometime in 2021. If approved, the proposals would go before Fallbrook and Rainbow voters, who would have the final say.
Submitted by Fallbrook Public Utility District and Rainbow Municipal Water District.