By Lisa Kay, President.
I believe the greatest challenge we face in California is one of water management to ensure that we have sustainable, reliable, clean, local water sources to fuel our economic future. According to the just released Public Policy Institute’s Statewide Survey on California’s and the Environment (July 2014), more than half of Californians believe water supply is a big problem in their part of the state, and for the first time in 14 years of the survey, water trumped air quality as the top concern of state residents. I’m pleased to dedicate this Alta Newsletter issue to water.
Historically, California’s groundwater has not been sustainably managed. Groundwater, a significant part of the local water supply equation, is in peril in parts of our state because of overdraft which has resulted in serious aquifer depletion, dry wells, and land subsidence, most notably in the Central and San Joaquin Valleys. California is one of the only states in the country without an overarching groundwater regulatory authority for enforcement. Local agencies are authorized to manage groundwater and more than 200 local agencies in the state do have management plans, but that doesn’t cover all the groundwater basins in our state. Further, local agencies cannot compel compliance through regulatory enforcement. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) administers water rights for surface waters, but no state-wide groundwater use permitting system exists.
Governor Jerry Brown is pretty keen on addressing California’s need for creating a policy and regulatory structure for groundwater. Not only did he mentioned the need for “serious groundwater management” in his 2014 State of the State Address, but his budget proposal for FY 2014-15 includes $1.9M for 10 new state official job positions to establish a new groundwater policing and regulatory bureaucracy that would begin superseding longstanding state groundwater and property rights laws (www.calwatchdog.com). In addition to Gov. Brown’s efforts, two bills are currently in the California Legislature which would establish an authority for regulating groundwater: Senate Bill 1168 by Sen. Fran Pavley, (Agoura Hills), and AB 1739 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, (Sacramento). As currently proposed, these bills would authorize local water agencies to manage water basins and implement water management plans. It would call for the State Water Resources Control Board to develop and implement a water management plan if local water agencies fail to manage a water basin in crisis. Since we are in a crisis now, we need to act fast with oversight and guidance.
It certainly seems the Brown Administration is moving toward consolidating regulatory oversight for water within the SWRCB. On July 14 of this year, the drinking water program administered by the Department of Public Health was transferred to the SWRCB and a planned state budget trailer legislation will grant the SWRCB expanded regulatory authority over drinking water (LAO, March 2014). While local water agencies would like to maintain local control and be given more authority and oversight in basin planning, it appears that the administration is leaning heavily toward the SWRCB also having an overarching regulatory authority over groundwater to provide a backstop and ensure the resource is managed and protected (California Water Action Plan, 2014). Having one agency with regulatory authority over surface water, drinking water, stormwater and ground water seems fitting given the natural cycle of water.
Local and regional water agencies are working hard to reduce reliance on imported water, with numerous projects that are on-going or in the works. In the City of Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power, a long-time Alta client, has been actively seeking to develop local sources of water. They have plans to build the world’s largest groundwater treatment facility to clean up contaminated water in the San Fernando groundwater basin (LA Times, June 23, 2013). The agency recently issued a solicitation seeking to hire the construction management team to oversee permitting and construction over the next decade. In addition to groundwater projects, local agencies are working hard to develop projects to increase our local water supplies. San Diego County Water Authority just completed its $1.5B emergency water storage project with the finalization of the raising of San Vicente Dam. They are looking forward toward the increase of local water supplies in partnership with the City of San Diego with the planned implementation of Project Pure Water which would use purified recycled water to augment reservoir water and ultimately increase local water supply.
Increasing local supply is an important element. However, much of the water in the region is still dependent on the San Francisco Bay-Delta which needs infrastructure upgrades. The current plan remains a hotly debated topic with many critics of the proposed tunnel system solution. The Public Policy Institute’s survey found that a majority of Californians would vote “yes” to the $11B bond originally planned, and subsequently delayed twice under Gov. Schwarzenegger. While it is has been scheduled for the November 2014 ballot, there is talk that Gov. Brown will ask the legislature to look at proposing a new and less costly bond. Given public concerns about water supply in the midst of drought conditions, a less costly water bond seems likely to pass. California needs a bond measure on the ballot because we face up to 40% continued decline in water reliability from the Delta (MWD BDCP Fact Sheet).
Jacques Cousteau said, “we forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” As California’s drought continues, people are finding it harder to forget.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – is California headed in the right direction swiftly enough to ensure available, reliable, safe and environmentally sound water?Contact me at Lisa.Kay@altaenviron.com, or feel free to give us a call at (562) 495-5777.
President, Alta Environmental