H2bid Blog

California moves to improve freshwater management

As readers of this blog may be aware, the State of California has been facing
many challenges with respect to its freshwater management, endangered species,
and agriculture. In November, 2009, the state took a step forward to face those
challenges in the form of four bills that total over $11 billion in funding directed towards
the state’s river systems, lakes, and other water management projects.

The bills cover four major areas of water management. The first, Senate
Bill No. 1 addresses the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area and lays out a
plan for reestablishment of the natural wetlands while preserving the state’s fresh
water resources. The second bill, Senate Bill No. 6 requires that localities monitor
groundwater levels to avoid pumping aquifers dry. Senate Bill No. 7 aims to bring
urban and agricultural water users to the table to begin a real discussion about
water conservation. Finally, Senate Bill No. 8 addresses the practice of water
diversion and seeks to set up a more equitable playing field for all the state’s
water stakeholders.

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Plan
The Delta Plan, as it is called, establishes the twin goals of providing a more
reliable water supply along with restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.
To accomplish these goals, the new law establishes the Delta Stewardship Council;
the Council, staffed by seven appointed members who are intended to bring a
balanced, state-wide view to the Council. The Council’s mandate sets both goals
as “coequal” that is, conservancy and water availability must both be pursued and
neither may trump the other in priority or urgency.

Additionally, the law directs state agencies and local governance boards to
definitively establish water levels that are needed to maintain the biodiversity in
the region. Funding from a recent ballot-initiative will be directed toward improving
the pumping stations and flood control mechanisms such that these critical operations
continue but the biodiversity of the Delta can be maintained.

Groundwater Monitoring
For the first time in the state’s history, California will require local agencies to
monitor groundwater levels in both drought years and so-called “normal” years.
This is critical to avoiding the water “slump” problem that was identified by this
blog some months ago. Namely, during the drought years, conservation lags
behind the drought – in effect the conservation doesn’t usually begin until the
drought is well underway and the aquifer water levels are reduced. Then,
when the normal rains come again, the conservation abruptly ends – without
ever giving the aquifer an opportunity to replenish. This abusive cycle results
in dangerously low water levels and an unpredictability to water availability in
the longer term. The new law seeks to avoid these risks through constant
monitoring – drought or rainy.

Statewide Water Conservation
Senate Bill No. 7 requires urban water agencies to reduce water consumption by
20 percent per capita by 2020. The importance of this action cannot be overstated.
For the first time, the State of California is actively seeking to stabilize or even
reduce overall water use. These agencies have wide latitude in how best to
achieve the reduction goal but mechanisms include penalties for offenders and
increased funding for agencies that need capital to implement conservation plans.

The bill goes further by requiring agricultural water use planning for the first time
in the state’s history. These plans will look at ways of delivering water to
growers in a more equitable manner and also seek to implement best practices
aimed at conservation in the agricultural fields with a goal of replacing ever-
increasing water use with improved sustainability in agriculture

Water Diversion and Use
The state will be directing hundreds of millions of dollars at multiple projects
aimed at securing the reliability of the state’s water supply. Included in these
projects will be flood protection projects that will reduce the risk of levee failures
that would jeopardize water conveyance. Additionally, the State will pursue
integrated regional water management projects to reduce dependence on
the Delta, which currently accounts for a large portion of the State’s fresh
water sourcing.

Governor Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers showed a cooperative spirit,
working together to craft these bills. Though the challenges facing the state
were demanding and the problems offered no easy answers, the solutions that
they’ve come to appear solid. While these bills may not solve every water-related
problem that California is facing, they do appear to set the state on a path toward
sustainable water solutions.

Read California’s Water Energy Relation Report

California’s Water – Energy Relationship