PUBLISHED: November 11, 2016 at 3:22 pm | UPDATED: November 13, 2016 at 11:56 am
BETHEL ISLAND — Officials are hammering out a set of new fees that would permanently pay for the maintenance, repair and improvements on the levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
The new fees explored by the committee identify beneficiaries of the levees inside the Delta, around the region and down into Southern California. The three fees are a flood prevention fee, aimed at industry and citizens, a water use fee and a water conveyance fee.
“It’s long been known that there are beneficiaries that do not pay — the Delta having levees benefits far more people than the residents of the islands protected.,” said Nicole Bert, communications specialist with the Delta Protection Commission. “PG&E has utility infrastructure crossing the Delta; they benefit from not flooding. Railroads carrying freight across the Delta and certainly the exporters and contractors that rely on the Delta channeling fresh water to their pump benefit.”
The Delta provides two-thirds of California’s fresh drinking water and millions of acres of agriculture.
Over the past century, the levees have failed 160 times. Most notably in 1972 when the Andrus Island levee broke and 1,400 Isleton residents and 1,500 Andrus and Brannan residents were evacuated.
In 1973, the state authorized the Delta Levees Maintenance Subvention program, which lets local districts receive a 75 percent reimbursement from the state for levee maintenance. In the past 30 years, the levees have only broken once, with the Jones Tract levee failure in 2004.
The program was intended to provide 75 percent reimbursement for 10 years, then drop to a 50 percent reimbursement, but it has been extended through legislation over the years. A recent extension was put forth by Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis and was backed by Contra Costa County but faced opposed by a coalition of Southern California water agencies, which wrote that “it is simply unclear which Delta islands, if any, lack the economic standing to underwrite their own levee maintenance, and whether statewide interests merit a public subsidy for those levee improvements.
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the extension in October, citing work by the Delta Protection Commission on a more permanent source of funding.
“The group identified archetypes and assessed whether or not they were contributing,” Bert said. “They do pay taxes in California, but not to the proportion that they benefit.”
The report identifies six groups that benefit from the Delta: Delta communities, infrastructure, out-of-Delta water users, upstream discharges, and state and public interests.
Beneficiaries of the Delta’s levees, as identified by the Delta Protection Commission.
While still in the preliminary planning stages, fees could potentially increase to all groups with the exception of state and public interests. The fees being considered currently take three forms: a Delta Flood Prevention Fee for the first five groups; a Delta water user fee to infrastructure, both water user groups and upstream dischargers, and a conveyance fee to out-of- Delta water users.
The report doesn’t specifically identify who would be assessed, as that decision is still up in the air, but the three fees were seen as ones that “could be reasonably implemented with reasonable acceptance and would most fairly address the situation,” according to Bert.
The report and recommendations will be presented to members of the Delta Protection Commission subcommittee for the study on Dec. 8 in Sacramento.