By Craig W. Anderson
When the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors recently approved a groundwater banking demonstration project, part of the audience left the supervisor’s chamber. They weren’t angry but instead were happy representatives from the East Bay Municipal Utility District had to rush back to Oakland for the district’s board meeting where the project was again approved.
“The groundwater demonstration project is good to go,” said Supervisors Chairman Ken Vogel. “Negotiations are on the way and this decision keeps us close to the timetable set up for the project.”
The memorandum of agreement for banking groundwater for future use during dry years for the county’s Flood Control and Water Conservation District was approved by the supervisors and the process has begun, said Vogel, “Our director of public works and groundwater coordinator are preparing to meet with EBMUD to get the ball rolling.”
Process has taken months
The process of putting together the project began 18 months ago with the intent of determining the interest in it and if the reaction was sufficiently positive and the project mutually beneficial enough to go forward.
Both the San Joaquin County supervisors and EBMUD’s board of directors agreed there was a high level of positive interest sufficient to move forward.
“We’re very pleased both of us are moving forward with this and I’m optimistic it will be a very good demonstration of groundwater banking,” said Michael Tognolini, EBMUD manager of water supply improvement. “Our staff will support San Joaquin County staff as we go forward. I think we’re all excited to begin.”
The memorandum of agreement says San Joaquin County and EBMUD will make good faith efforts and “devote adequate resources” to maintain the project’s schedule which runs from August 2013 through June 2015 – the beginning of construction – and April 2016, when the project is scheduled for completion.
Why do this now? Joe Valente, SJFB past president, noted the project is now timely because “people realized something had to be done to bank and preserve groundwater for those times when water’s needed.”
Now that both parties have approved the memorandum they will begin developing the project concept, said Tognolini, determining how large it will be, where it will be located, the operating criteria, “…in short, working out the details.”
The first process is to quickly hire an engineering consultant who “will help us zero in on what we’re actually going to do,” Tognolini said. “We’ll be working with permitting agencies, construction, the EIR and many other areas as the process moves along.”
Both Tognolini and Vogel agreed that a key deadline is the development and approval of the construction operation before marching forward with the design and construction. “We want to be effective with the schedule from now until 2016,” Tognolini said.
“It’s time to put more meat on the bones of this project,” Vogel said, “…to determine the basics: who does what, where it will be located, and who pays for it along with deciding how we can measure its effectiveness. But that’s why it’s a demonstration system.”
Small project, big results
This is, Tognolini noted, a small demonstration project but its importance is large. “Remember, there’s much to do here,” he said. “This is not only a display of the technical aspects of successful groundwater banking but the entire process is also part of the demonstration: how the two entities will cooperate and make sure the schedule’s met; how costs will be controlled; and how the final project will be successfully completed to the satisfaction of all involved parties.”
The demonstration project will also shed light on other issues, including the capacity of the basin and will ensure the project is “developed to be within the province of the existing ordinance.”
Many issues remain
Many issues requiring answers remain but Vogel and Tognolini are confident they’ll be resolved, groundwater will be successfully banked and a successful demonstration achieved.