Information On California Delta Water Quality Standards

CED-82-30: Published: Jan 18, 1982. Publicly Released: Jan 18, 1982.

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GAO was asked: (1) how much Central Valley Project (CVP) water would be used as a result of a decision to voluntarily meet California water quality standards, if the decision is permanently implemented; (2) who the potential beneficiaries from using CVP yield to ensure California Delta water quality would be; (3) who would pay for the depletion of CVP yield; and (4) how much the depletion would cost CVP users in potential lost revenues for project repayment.

According to Bureau of Reclamation and California water officials, implementing the decision would use about 800,000 acre feet of CVP water annually. On the other hand, a new agreement currently being negotiated between federal and state water project officials, which includes meeting the new standards, could increase CVP yield by about 1.1 million acre feet. This increase results primarily from technical and other adjustments in the agreement. However, before the Bureau can sign the new agreement, Congress must authorize meeting the water quality standards as one of the purposes of CVP. The primary beneficiaries of the decision will be Delta municipal and industrial water users, agriculture, and fish and wildlife. They will benefit because improved water quality contributes to increased crop yield, more productive manufacturing processes, better drinking water, and an improved fish and wildlife environment. The water will contain fewer chlorides and dissolved solids. Yield depletion will be paid for either by current CVP users or the taxpayers, depending on whether the water quality standards are imposed for enhancement or mitigation purposes. State officials contend that the standards primarily mitigate the project operations' impact, while federal officials contend that the standards provide enhancement to the water quality and, thus, should be nonreimbursable. The Bureau estimates that the loss of revenues to be anticipated in meeting the standards would range from zero to $2 million annually, depending on how the issue of mitigation or enhancement is settled.

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