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California WaterFix clears State planning process 27 Jul 2017

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

The multi-billion water delivery project in Northern California that is based on the excavation of more than 73 miles (117km) of large diameter TBM-bored segmentally-lined tunneling beneath the delta area of the San Francisco Bay has cleared a major phase of its development and implementation.

Principal infrastructure elements of the project
Principal infrastructure elements of the project
Elements of the WaterFix project
Constructability and schedule of the project

On Friday 21 July, California Governor Jerry Brown approved for the project a California Environmental Quality Act and signed legislation granting the project a Notice of Determination. This completes the State’s environmental process for the program and while there may be need for a subsequent Record of Decision from the US Federal Government and to meet Federal environmental impact requirements, the Notice of Determination from the State Government permits the project to move from the planning phase into the implementation phase.

Approval of the State’s environmental process and the Record of Determination ends a long and complex journey for the project that started decades ago. The history of the project in detail was presented recently and recorded in a hearing about the project by the Board of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) (watch the videos of the proceedings).

Introduction and history of the project development

The hearing by the Special Committee of the Board for Bay Delta and Water Planning heard details of the first of three white papers. The specific objective of the first paper is to:

  • Review the physical infrastructure;
  • Outline the State’s approach to managing and implementing the project through a proposed Design/Construction Joint Powers Authority; and
  • Outline the project’s planned approach to risk management and to present key risk-related issues and measures adopted to keep the project within cost and schedule targets.

Additional Committee meetings and workshops are scheduled to discuss two further white papers on operations and on financing and cost allocation before the MWD Board will take a vote at its 12 September meeting on the next steps to advance the project and its construction.

MWD is the principal beneficiary and promoter of the project. It is the supplier of potable water to its local water authority companies in Southern California who provide fresh water to individual customers, clients and ratepayers in their service areas. These areas include the mega population conurbations of Los Angeles and San Diego. The State’s Department of Water Resources is also a stakeholder in the project to protect the interests of the State as a whole.

Cost estimate to implement the project
Management of project risk

The need for the WaterFix project is to secure and increase current water supply system canals from the water-abundant areas of California to the more arid, high water-demand areas of the south. In addition, the project is designed to protect the ecology and the natural as well as manmade waterway infrastructure of the San Francisco Bay delta area at the end of the Sacramento River and safeguard the fresh water resource of the River from the rising salt water sea levels of the bay.

Water supply security is the heart of the project
Water supply security is the heart of the project

The cost of the proposed new infrastructure of the WaterFix project is estimated at $17 billion and extrapolated from a cost study in 2014 to 2017 prices. This multi-billion investment is spread over a projected 16-year implementation period from an approval date. As well as intake structures and construction of new water holding reservoirs, major construction centers on excavation of more than 13.5 miles (22km) of intake tunnels from the Sacramento River and more than 30 miles (48km) of twin tunnels, for 60 miles and nearly 100km of large diameter TBM tunnels, to deliver the water by gravity to a new pumping station at the Clifton Court Forebay where it will be lifted into the existing system of delivery canals to southern California.

The project has passed through many planning variations, the most significant to replace proposed new systems of canals underground into tunnels, and has been the subject of many studies and reviews to reduce the impact of the project on the environment and to reduce costs and control the risks associated with implementation of the civil works.

MWD Board questions and discussion session
Contributions from the public to the meeting

The project has also attracted significant public attention. It is a contentious issue for the residents of northern California and also for environmentalists who promote alternative options for meeting water needs in southern California including water conservation and more efficient use of gray water. It has also attracted organized opposition from farmers in the central valley region who rely heavily on existing water supplies to sustain their commercial crops and livelihoods.

The details of the project and its history, as well as presentations by the public and interest groups, are presented in the video edits of the recent Special Committee MWD Board meeting. Further news will be reported as the project moves through the coming weeks of hearings and developments.

References

           

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