Santa Margarita River water project closer than ever

Our local water project is now closer than ever to coming to fruition. After more than six decades of legal hurdles, water-rights litigation, environmental permitting and some bureaucratic red tape, the final settlement agreement with Camp Pendleton on the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project should go before the FPUD board of directors for a vote within the next six months.

About a year from now, the project will again go before the board for a final vote to proceed with construction.

If the board approves the settlement and the project, construction of necessary infrastructure would likely begin in 2018. It will take approximately two years to complete.

Approval would be monumental for FPUD. It would allow us to move forward with securing our own, local water supply. It would also provide a buffer from escalating imported water costs and an additional shield against drought. Once built, it will provide about 30 percent of our total water supply. That’s important because it will allow us to reduce water purchases from our wholesaler and over the long term, help us reduce the cost of water.

Before construction could begin, financing of the project would need to be secured by staff and then approved by the board.

In January, the board directed FPUD staff to move forward with the loan application process to secure a State Revolving Fund loan for 20 years at approximately 1.6 percent interest. The State Revolving Fund is a federal low-interest loan program, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is the backbone of infrastructure funding for water agencies.

Staff is also exploring grants and other funding options. The final design phase for the infrastructure will be completed in February. This water project does not impact the 1,300 acres of Santa Margarita River property owned by the district, where horseback riders and hikers enjoy the miles of natural trails year-round.

While FPUD is continuing to move forward with the transfer of the property, for permanent preservation and continued recreational use for the public, the water project can proceed either with or without the transfer of the property. FPUD is working with Western Rivers Conservancy for the transfer of the property, and working very closely with the Fallbrook Trails Council to preserve the trails, scenic open space and public access.