Water portfolio lays out state’s long-term plans

Issue Date: January 8, 2020
By Christine Souza

Farm organizations welcomed a new water planning document from state agencies while they analyzed the document's proposed strategies.

Titled the California Water Resilience Portfolio and released last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration described the document as an effort to guide water management in a way that works for people, the environment and the economy.

The draft portfolio document addresses safe drinking water, flood risks, depleted groundwater aquifers, water supply uncertainty for agriculture, and native fish populations.

The California Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural groups have been actively engaged in the process to develop an updated water plan for the state, advocating for improvements such as water storage, recharge and conveyance.

CFBF Senior Counsel Chris Scheuring said, "While we do not embrace every element of the plan, we appreciate its substance and its urgency," adding that Farm Bureau hopes the portfolio will lead to administration actions that benefit the state's water future.

"We know that in California water, everything is difficult, and if this administration can break new ground where past administrations have failed, we're certainly going to welcome it," Scheuring said.

According to the draft, he said, the state would like to fast-track the construction of the offstream storage facility Sites Reservoir and emphasize the need for groundwater recharge, both of which Scheuring described as "good things."

The draft framework released by the California Natural Resources Agency, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Food and Agriculture came in response to Newsom's April 2019 executive order, which called for a suite of recommended actions to ensure the state's long-term water resilience and ecosystem health. The administration said the draft also builds on previous work, including the California Water Action Plan released by the Brown administration in 2014 and updated in 2016.

Noting that the state will likely need to cope with more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, declining fish populations, aging infrastructure and other challenges, the almost 150-page draft outlines more than 100 recommendations intended to maintain and diversify water supplies; protect and enhance natural ecosystems; build connections and be prepared.

"This draft portfolio has been shaped to provide tools to local and regional entities to continue building resilience and to encourage collaboration within and across regions," Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said. "At the same time, state government needs to invest in projects of statewide scale and importance and tackle challenges beyond the scope of any region. Taken together, the proposed actions aim to improve our capacity to prepare for disruptions, withstand and recover from shocks, and adapt from these experiences."

Related to the state's water supply, the draft said state government will help regions reduce reliance on any one water source to enable flexibility, and also expressed support for a single-tunnel conveyance project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The draft plan encourages state actions and investment to improve physical infrastructure to store, move and share water more flexibly and integrate water management through shared use of science, data and technology. To prepare for more extreme droughts and floods, the plan promotes state investments and guidance to enable preparation, protective actions and adaptive management.

Related to the environment, the draft calls on state leaders to restore the health of key river systems to sustain fish and wildlife, which "requires effective standard-setting, continued investments, and more adaptive, holistic environmental management."

The draft encourages voluntary river flow agreements as an alternative to state-mandated "unimpaired flow" plans being drafted by the State Water Resources Control Board, which Scheuring described as critical. At the same time, he said the draft document also calls for instream flow recommendations elsewhere in California.

"We support voluntary agreements that are truly voluntary and that take a balanced approach to consider the many other factors related to healthy fisheries, including habitat, predator control, food supply and more," Scheuring said. "Our members oppose use of water quality planning processes as a systemic environmental overlay that controls water rights and disrupts human uses of water that have been legally established for more than 100 years."

Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors, an association representing agencies that purchase water from the State Water Project, said the draft portfolio "recognizes the importance of building a water supply that is more sustainable and more resilient to the increasing impacts of climate change," noting that the association supports the need to complete a voluntary agreement and modernize conveyance.

"If we are to meet the challenges ahead, we must work quickly and collaboratively, basing management actions and decisions on the best available science," Pierre said.

In creating the draft portfolio, state agencies said they conducted an inventory and assessment of key aspects of California water, and considered input from more than 20 public listening sessions across the state and more than 100 comment letters.

The draft Water Resilience Portfolio may be reviewed at waterresilience.ca.gov. The state said it would accept written comments on the document until Feb. 7; comments may be sent via input@waterresilience.ca.gov.

The agencies said they plan to release a final version of the Water Resilience Portfolio, considering the additional feedback, soon after the comment period closes.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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