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Proposition 1 funds could potentially be used to improve or expand CPUD wastewater treatment facilities in Chester, should it meet the State of California’s Integrated Regional Water Management program guidelines. Photo by Stacy Fisher

Prop. 1 bond measure to fund district projects

Restoring the watershed in the Upper Feather River region has a long history of successful planning, starting with the advent of the State of California’s Integrated Regional Water Management program in 2005.

The program sought to encourage implementation of several projects to enhance natural resources, including watershed and forest management and state water project financing.

Proposition 1 was passed by California voters in 2014, authorizing $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects beyond improving natural resources, including public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, wastewater treatment, drought relief and emergency water supplies.

Frank Motzkus, Chester utility district general manager, stated that IRWM apportions Prop. 1 funding with an emphasis on disadvantaged rural communities, tribal lands and other public interest entities.

The Upper Feather River Watershed includes Plumas County with portions of Sierra, Butte, Shasta and Lassen counties; and together is eligible for $510 million in funding for various water projects.

The IRWM program guidelines require that regional water management groups be formed that address finance strategies that indentify funding sources for state loans not covered by the grant portion of the bond measure. This provides a mechanism for the county to receive Prop. 1 funding once county officials identify projects that meet the criterion set forth by IRWM.

The Upper Feather River Regional Water Management Group began the process of updating the 2005 IRWM plan to be compliant with 2016 Prop. 1 standards. The plan must also be in conformance with the most recent Department of Water Resources guidelines, thereby establishing regional eligibility for grant funding and low interest loans.

Motzkus said the management group committee, made up of district personnel to help identify projects that are eligible for Prop. 1 grants and loans, is subdivided into five subgroups, such as the municipal services working group that Motzkus sits on as chairman. Members in each subgroup work to advance projects deemed important to each specific group.

Motzkus has been one of a number of people working to update the regional water plan that will include funding proposals for eight to 10 Chester utility district projects, including groundwater monitoring, erosion repair, reducing and preventing drinking water contaminants, replacement of broken and outdated water and sewer lines, and upgrading and expanding the district’s wastewater system infrastructure.

Motzkus said when he first came on board as general manager in June, he began the process of tying the district into the plan, “although our projects have not yet been listed,” in the planning document.

He estimated that by the first quarter of next year, projects in his district would be included, and that by “being part of this process of updating the document early, the district will have an advantage when seeking funds,” he said.

The IRWM reviews the approval of the submitted plan by DWR regarding water infrastructure projects that have been recognized as meeting the proper guidelines, and then DWR allocates funds to the local committee that put the plan together, to spend toward needed projects.

For example, Chester has a need to replace 60-year-old sewer lines, Motzkus noted, “so that request goes through DWR and they distribute a certain amount of money for that project after it’s been approved.”

“We have so many projects identified,” Motzkus continued. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the Upper Feather River Regional Management Group rates them and how much money is then allocated to each project.”

Because Prop. 1 funding consists of both state grants and low-interest loans, Motzkus pointed out that, “A particular project may include 15 to 25 percent in grant money, with the district paying around 2 percent in interest on the balance of the loan.”

For example, if a wastewater project were to cost $500,000, of which $50,000 was provided as a grant, that would leave $450,000 remaining that CPUD would have to finance at the 2 percent rate, with money coming from the district’s general budget, or in the case of a wastewater project, a portion of sewer service fees that have been held in reserve for capital improvements.

“One of my goals as general manager has been to try and set up a reserve account so that the water department, fire and wastewater sides of the district all have the ability to put money aside for future projects,” that cover project costs or at least a portion of state loans, said Motzkus.

The CPUD board of directors previously passed a resolution supporting the updating of the 2016 water plan, “which gives us a great start in claiming Prop. 1 monies,” Motzkus added.

For more detailed information on the implementation of Prop. 1 funding, an overview of the 2016 Upper Feather River Integrated Regional Water Plan, and regional project proposals, go to featherriver.org.

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