Water districts that have voted to commit their funds to the California WaterFix have formed a Joint Powers Agreement to help the state Department of Water Resources accomplish construction of the Delta Twin Tunnels.

The new JPA, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCDCA), held its first meeting May 17 in Sacramento.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, opposes the creation of the JPA at this time.

Two Valley residents with experience in the water world have key positions in the new JPA. Jill Duerig, who retired in March as General Manager of Zone 7 Water Agency, has the role of interim director for the JPA. Duerig lives in Sunol.

Livermore resident Sarah Palmer, a Zone 7 board member who has served two terms and is seeking a third in the June 5 election, is a member of the JPA board. She was elected to the position of secretary.

After Metropolitan Water District (MWD), an amalgam of water agencies in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, committed $11 billion to the project, the agencies that have signed on so far were able to conclude the JPA with the state Department of Water Resources (DWR).

Zone 7 was the first water agency in the state to sign on to the Cal WaterFix on a 5-2 vote. Angela Ramirez Holmes and the late Jim McGrail voted against the WaterFix.

Ramirez Holmes said earlier this week that she has continued concerns that Zone 7 is committing the board and customers to unknown costs. “There are only a limited number of groups participating in this JPA,” she said. Zone 7 is by far the smallest, compared to Santa Clara and MWD.

Ramirez Holmes said that she did not know what the process was to hire Duerig or select board members, since the Zone 7 board was never informed about it.

The proposed WaterFix is estimated to cost $17 billon. It includes two tunnels along with related construction. That figure is listed as the budget total in a DCDCA document. With MWD’s financial commitment in early April, and a recent decision by Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose to approve it on a 4-3 vote, the momentum was created to form the JPA. Kern County Water Agency is another big district that has supported the WaterFix.

The JPA is not intended to be a permanent agency. It will go out of business after the WaterFix tunnels are completed. Estimates have varied about the time of completion for the whole project. The key element is the twin tunnels.

A timeline in a document on the DCDCA web site projects the tunnels to be completed about 10 years after construction commences. Construction is expected to begin in about three years.

Duerig emphasized the “interim” nature of her title. She said that she sees herself as part of an initial phase, as the JPA establishes itself. Eventually there will be a long-term director, once the recruiting process for the position has been completed.

Documents at the DCDCA website show that the start-up team led by Duerig will “establish financial systems, acquire office and meeting space, and undertake mission-critical activities.”

In the initial phase, DCDCA will recruit the “the best and the brightest,” said Palmer.

DWR director Karla Nemeth said that the DCDCA formation is a key step toward implementation of WaterFix. This partnership represents a true collaboration in the best interests of California.”

Nemeth worked in communications for Zone 7 and represented the agency at the Delta talks held by the earlier version of the California WaterFix. She later joined the Sacramento-based staff, and eventually was named an assistant director in the California Natural Resources Division by Gov. Jerry Brown. She was appointed to head the DWR in January.

Creating the JPA is a way for the water agencies to maintain a hands-on approach to financing and meeting the requirements of environmental mitigation for the project. The people who will pay for the project will have a voice in creating it. No state budget money will pay for the tunnels; it all will come from water ratepayers in the agencies that sign on.

“Having a cooperative Joint Powers Authority that is only focused on the Delta conveyance project will greatly increase the likelihood of the project being carried out on time and on budget. This will minimize the negative impact of the project process that many of the Delta communities fear,” said Palmer.

Palmer said that her goal in serving on the JPA board is “to ensure that our region is represented on this issue, and to provide a potential for diverse perspectives as we go forward.”

CRITIC SAYS JPA IS PREMATURE

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said that creation of the JPA is premature. She noted that there is an EIR process to be completed and certified, probably with final certification in the fall. “The forming of DCDCA is a blatant, premature use of ratepayers’ money,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

Palmer said that the DCDCA will follow all policies as outlined by the DWR. “Certifying the EIR is part of what the JPA will do,” said Palmer.

Stefanie Morris, the general counsel for DCDCA, did not return a call for comment before The Independent’s deadline.

New Zone 7 General Manager Valerie Pryor said that Zone 7 approved a $250,000 contribution to help establish the JPA and for the ongoing funding of the Cal WaterFix.