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California Forever statement ahead of Solano County Water Agency meeting

By California Forever · Wed Nov 08 2023

Tomorrow, November 9th, at its regular board meeting, the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) Board of Directors will discuss our proposal to contribute funding – without any conditions – for additional studies into the feasibility of building the Water+ Project, formerly known as the North Bay Aqueduct Alternate Intake. This is Item 12 on the agenda, and the staff recommendation is on page 54 of the agenda packet.

These are studies that SCWA has been wanting to conduct before our project was announced, for the benefit of the following cities that currently use North Bay Aqueduct water: Benicia, Fairfield, Suisun City, Vacaville, Vallejo, American Canyon, Napa, and Calistoga. We just offered to contribute towards funding these studies, without any conditions, thereby saving everyone money on their water bill by not having residents bear those costs. Since some opponents of our project are attempting to spread misinformation about our proposal, this statement sets the record straight.

We want to be clear that this matter is unrelated to the land exchange proposal we made yesterday to protect Travis AFB and the Jepson Prairie. In both cases, SCWA happens to be involved, but the matters are largely unrelated. In the land exchange proposal, SCWA acts as the agency in charge of the Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan and as a landowner of property held for environmental mitigation purposes in connection with that plan. In the matter discussed here, SCWA acts as the operator of some of Solano County’s water infrastructure. 

Our project has two options for how to secure our water supply – we can either look for solutions that supply and help solely our project, or we can look for solutions that provide our water but also help all of Solano County. 

If we are looking for solutions that only benefit our project, California Forever owns significant water rights to both the groundwater under our properties, and to surface water from the Sacramento River, and we could focus solely on using those, or other solutions that only supply our project. However, our Principle #3 has always been to “Help solve regional infrastructure needs, including energy, transportation, water, and wildfire protection” – we want to look for win-win solutions that help us, but also others. Water is a good example of that.

Solano County currently obtains water from two primary sources – Lake Berryessa (through Solano Irrigation District) and the North Bay Aqueduct (“NBA”, through SCWA). Years before we started investing in Solano County, SCWA and other agencies recognized that the North Bay Aqueduct had significant challenges with water quality and availability. The challenges, as well as a proposed solution, are detailed in this North Bay Aqueduct Alternate Intake information sheet. More recently, the project was renamed Water+, as discussed in this Vacavile Reporter article from 2022. Long before we even announced our project, SCWA knew these upgrades were needed. A key challenge with the Water+ project is funding – even with possible state and federal funds, there is not enough funds in local budgets to pay for the local portion.

In October, we met with SCWA Staff and made a simple proposal – we will help contribute funding, no strings attached, towards additional feasibility studies of the Water+ Project (which are needed whether our project happens or not). We did not condition our contribution on any results, and we did not condition our contribution on receiving any water rights. Put simply, Water+ would involve building a new water pipeline, and our interest was in potentially funding a portion of the pipeline (and then purchasing water separately from other sources to run through that pipeline).

This is essentially “free lunch” for SCWA and the Water+ project – the agency gets a portion of funds for the studies it needs to do without making Solano and Napa residents bear the cost. If the results show that a joint project could make sense, the SCWA board can decide whether to proceed or not . A project of this scale would involve multiple decisions by the SCWA board, dozens of other agencies, environmental reports, etc. 

With regards to the amounts we could contribute, we don't know yet, because SCWA first needs to obtain an approval from its board to start discussions with us, in which they could tell us what studies have been done and what studies remain to do, what the costs and timelines are, and what is the funding gap.

The decision in front of the board right now is NOT whether to work with us on building any water infrastructure. The decision is solely whether to authorize SCWA staff to start discussions and potentially accept financial assistance in conducting studies that the SCWA must do regardless of our project. SCWA Staff recognized these facts, and wrote this in their report to the Board of Directors:

Last week, some opponents of our project completely misstated the facts described above in order to manipulate local residents into opposing not just our project as a whole – but even our proposal to provide funding to SCWA to help pay for studies that SCWA needed to do anyway.

What those opponents are saying is simple:

  1. First, they do not not trust the SCWA CEO and staff – they are attempting to undermine their recommendation. Presumably because those opponents know what to do better than the SCWA staff, who collectively have hundreds of years of experience in water and water infrastructure.

  2. Second, those opponents do not trust the SCWA Board to make the right decision as the discussions evolve if any actual project were to come in front of them, so any analysis or discussions must stop now. SCWA Board consists of 5 Supervisors, 7 Mayors, and 3 independent directors. These opponents are saying they don’t trust the board to make the right decisions in the future.

California Forever does not need the NBA Alternate Intake/Water+ Project to secure its water supplies. Our ongoing water portfolio analysis has identified almost a dozen other approaches to get the water supply we need. We were trying to be good neighbors and look for win-wins that help all of Solano County, starting by contributing a portion of the funds needed for studies that need to happen regardless of our project. 

If Solano and Napa rate-payers end up paying more for these studies instead through higher water bills, they have the opponents to thank.