Portfolio outlines actions to address water problems

Issue Date: August 5, 2020
By Christine Souza

Now that Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration has released a final California Water Resilience Portfolio, farm organizations say they will monitor progress on implementing the plan's proposals—and on resolution of ongoing state-federal conflicts that complicate achieving some of its goals.

A plan for the state's water future, the final document prioritizes water improvements for agriculture, such as new water storage, help for local agencies to meet groundwater sustainability requirements, reaching voluntary river-flow agreements and more.

"The portfolio has a lot of initiatives we'd like to see carried through," California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Counsel Chris Scheuring said. "We've always said that addressing California's growing and very structural supply and demand imbalance will require a suite of solutions."

The almost 140-page document outlines 142 separate actions intended to help build a climate-resilient water system equipped to cope with more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, declining fish populations, overreliance on groundwater, aging infrastructure and other challenges.

State Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said the portfolio "identifies how the state can help regions maintain and diversify water supplies, protect and enhance natural systems and prepare for a future that looks very different from our recent past."

Among elements of the plan, the state said it would like to fast-track construction of the offstream storage facility Sites Reservoir, which Scheuring described as "good for the state." Sites Reservoir, proposed north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, would provide water supply and environmental benefits during dry and critical water years, and especially during extended droughts.

"We are pleased that our state's leaders are committed to advancing Sites Reservoir in a way that serves the environment and water supply needs for people and farms," said Fritz Durst, chairman of the Sites Project Authority.

Scheuring said Farm Bureau is pleased by the portfolio's emphasis on water storage but added, "It is time for action," noting ongoing work to distribute funds from the Proposition 1 water bond passed by California voters in 2014.

"In the face of a changing hydrology and a growing population, these processes need to be accelerated as soon as possible," Scheuring said.

The state said the pace of implementation will depend on resources available, adding that the state budget and bond resources have been "dramatically curtailed."

Even so, agencies said they intend to make progress on implementation of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, voluntary river-flow agreements, expanded water recycling and expanded use of seasonal floodplains for fish and flood benefits.

The document prioritizes helping local communities successfully implement SGMA to help bring groundwater supplies into balance by the 2040s.

Scheuring said he hopes the state "follows through on solutions that are calculated to ease the impact of sustainable groundwater management in the San Joaquin Valley and other places."

The document encourages voluntary river-flow agreements as an alternative to state-mandated "unimpaired flow" plans by the State Water Resources Control Board, which would require water users in San Joaquin River tributaries to leave 30% to 50% of flows in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. A second phase of the board's bay-delta plan, affecting Sacramento River tributaries, has not yet been released.

"We've been supporting voluntary agreements as a path that is more of a win-win than the unimpaired-flows approach for a long time," Scheuring said. "We want voluntary agreements, but the first thing that's going to have to be addressed is the federal-state conflict in the delta."

In April, state agencies issued an environmental permit for the State Water Project that places its delta operation in conflict with the federal Central Valley Project. Scheuring said the permit issued by the state represents a significant departure from past practices that coordinated operations of the state and federal projects.

"I don't know how the administration can be committed to voluntary agreements and simultaneously pursue this litigation path against the federal government," he said. "I don't know how the administration can achieve a large portion of its own water resiliency portfolio if it's pursuing litigation that hamstrings delta operations."

The portfolio also addresses action to construct a single-tunnel conveyance project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In addition, it 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.

Other priorities listed in the document include: updating regulations to expand water recycling, accelerating permitting of new smart water storage, improving conditions at the Salton Sea, removing dams from the Klamath River and better use of information and data to improve water management.

Northern California Water Association President David Guy said he was encouraged that the portfolio addresses four of the association's priority elements: ensuring access to safe drinking water, utilizing natural infrastructure, advancing modern infrastructure and integrating freshwater ecosystem budgets.

"These priorities reflect our evolving values and, through coordinated efforts to implement practical actions, can help realize Gov. Newsom's vision," Guy said.

State agencies released a draft version of the portfolio for public comment in January. For more information on the portfolio, see www.waterresilience.ca.gov.

(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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