South Monterey County Interlake Tunnel fish screen grant pact back on

Peninsula Premier Admin

In two key developments for proposed Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio water projects, a $17 million state grant for fish screens as part of the Interlake Tunnel project is in the works again while a draft engineer’s report for a long list of maintenance and repair work at the Monterey County-owned reservoirs has been released.

On Tuesday, the county Water Resources Agency board recommended the Board of Supervisors authorize water agency General Manager Brent Buche to enter into a grant agreement for the $17 million with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The grant earmarked for fish screens — or a “fish exclusion system” — aimed at preventing non-native white bass from migrating through the proposed Interlake Tunnel that would connect the Nacimiento and San Antonio reservoirs was withdrawn by state officials last year amid concerns about budget impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But local and state officials “hammered out” a new deal allowing the grant funding to be available through mid-2024. The pact must be approved by June.

If the agency gets the grant, it would have received $27 million in state grant funding for the tunnel project including $10 million from the state Department of Water Resources for prep work including environmental review.

Earlier Tuesday, the water agency board conducted a workshop to consider and accept public comments on the 72-page draft engineer’s report for the Nacimiento and San Antonio Maintenance Project, a required precursor to an assessment vote to pay for the $160 million initiative.

The draft report lays out a specific and detailed project description including 26 “sub-projects” for the two reservoirs and their dams and a $148.7 million cost estimate for the work. Adding in reserves lifts the total funding needed to about $160 million, not including about $2.7 million in ongoing annual operations and maintenance costs. The report also includes an assessment methodology, zones of benefit and a proposed assessment.

Buche said the plan is to present the draft report to area city councils and other entities such as the Monterey County Farm Bureau before returning to the water agency board for review. A final report would be considered for approval by the county supervisors.

The goal, Buche said, is to conduct an assessment vote by April, and if approved the agency could start receiving revenue by December.

Meanwhile, county officials are expecting to submit a water rights permit application for the Interlake Tunnel project later this year and that process is expected to take about two years to complete. The permit, environmental review and an engineer’s report are all required before a $140 million assessment vote for the project can be conducted.

The tunnel project proposal calls for spending about $170 million, including the $27 million in state grants, on an 11-mile underground pipeline between the two reservoirs allowing the agency to store additional water in the San Antonio reservoir because it fills up slower than the Nacimiento reservoir during the rainy season, allowing for increased releases and recharge in Salinas Valley aquifers and improved flood control.

Preliminary estimates indicate the project could result in up to 35,000 acre-feet per year in additional groundwater recharge in the overdrafted Salinas Valley basin, though final modeling results are still pending.

A $60 million San Antonio dam spillway replacement, considered a key element of the tunnel project operation, is already included in the proposed reservoir dam maintenance project list.

Contributed by local news sources

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