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IWVGA approves funding request for Pipeline Project

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–

At the March 8th board meeting of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority(IWVGA), Michael McKinney, representing the consulting Capitol Corp, presented a request for approval of proposed project authorization. “This request will require the United States Congress to include language in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) into the act of 2024. 

The language in the request would authorize the construction of the Interconnection Pipeline Project. This is assuming that between now and 2026, the project planning phase would be complete, and we will be ready for construction funding. According to Stetson Engineering, the case is to be ready by 2025. In that case, we would want to be ready in 2025 to begin seeking federal funds under WRDA. 

This is one of two major sources we are looking at in terms of federal funding for the Interconnection Pipeline Project. WRDA is reauthorized every two years, the projects are included in the congressional authorization, and subsequent funding must be sought through the Energy and Water Development Act. There are two types of projects under WRDA. We are seeking funding under WRDA under section 219, this is an environmental infrastructure project. This project has a 75% percent federal funding and a 25% non-federal funding match requirement. 

Sometimes the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) will say that projects are only allowed under a 65/35% ratio. We will not know until we have the conversation with the USACE where we would fall. I believe it would be 75/25, but cannot guarantee that.” 

McKinney continued. “We are recommending that you, the Board, approve this and that we begin seeking amendment this year, the deadline for this with Senator Feinstein’s office in October. Senator Padilla’s is in November. Kevin McCarthy’s office has not set a deadline for a request at this time. 

The object here, of course, is to put it into the earlier month of the draft bill essentially and have it ready in 2024. It is a must-pass bill for congress during that year.” 

Board Member John Vallejo stated, “I am generally supportive of this request, but two things have stood out to me. The statement that the request between $130 million and $150 million generally exceeds $100 million and that, coupled with the issue of this authorization of approval, would represent the totality of the federal share of funding approved for the project and no additional federal fundings would be eligible for the project.” 

McKinney addressed both issues saying, “Normally what we typically see from an Environmental Infrastructure Authorization, they do not exceed $100 million, but that does not mean that they could not, there is no legislative starting cap on that. We just have not seen very many that do exceed that amount. I am going to ask for the entire amount and see how the members of congress are going to react to that.

“In terms of the Authorization, yes, it is authorized under the WRDA, and then the federal shares would be limited to 75% or 65%, depending on how the USACE addresses it. That would cut off all other federal funding sources. It means that the balance of that would have to come from the state, if another federal funding source were to enter into this, it would simply become a part of that 75% share of the project.” 

Board member Chuck Griffin, representing the Water District, stated, “I feel that approving this and sending this letter right now would be a little like putting the cart before the horse. We don’t have the actual cost of this. Last month, we voted to have the USACE do this study, and the Water District was supportive of that to get a cost estimate, but we do not have a total number. My concern echoes Inyo County’s Vallejo. If we get this money, we may not be eligible for any other type of funding if it exceeds the cost that we are going for now. On pages fifty and fifty-five of the letter, it states that the Water District was on board with this connection, but at no time has the District made a statement that we would be on board with this connection.

“We are not convinced this is the most economical or feasible connection or means of getting water imported into this valley. We feel other feasible connections or ways to get water into this valley exist. We feel other areas need to be explored, and we look at every avenue that comes up with the best approach. That would be my opinion, I feel we could create a project where we could do this in a much cheaper way.” 

David Janiec, representing the China Lake Alliance, stated, “Also speaking as an individual, the alliance is strongly supportive of this and recognizes the length of time necessary to do the advocacy that Capitol Corp has been doing successfully, and I guess there is the off-ramp opportunity and that the political star alignment that is critical and must be taken advantage of in the next two years. We think this is best for the community.”

Vallejo stated, “On the request that is before us, I would be willing to make a motion, and if the Water District would like to remove the statement that they support the Interconnection Pipeline Project, my motion could include a request to amend the letter. If that is the case, I will make that motion.” 

Griffin stated, “I would like that removed, and I think there are two references that we want to hear from the Speaker of the House that he is supportive of this project. If that is the case, it is a game changer for us, but we want to know that he is in support of this project. 

I want to get it out there, are areas that we have not looked at, so why are we doing this right now without looking at the other areas first to see if it is more cost-effective before we go looking for money for a project that has not been deemed affordable for this valley yet. This is my concern, there are areas we could look at to get water cheaper and quicker. 

Vallejo said, “My motion would be to approve Staff’s recommendation with a modification to any correspondence regarding the Water District’s support for this project.” 

The motion was carried with Griffin opposing the recommendation.