Monday, August 25, 2014

The Old /New California Water Bond

from CA PUC
To great fanfare only available during a drought, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a compromise $7.5 billion dollar water bill that will face the voters in the fall. California is in the throes of the worst drought on record with 82% of the state in extreme drought conditions and mandatory water restrictions in place. Only the desert in the southeastern corner of California has seen rainfall during the last few weeks. Thought that rain was extremely heavy, rainfall in this arid region will have no impact on the water shortages and seriously low reservoir levels reported throughout the rest of the state.

In the spirit of never letting any disaster go to political waste the California legislature and Governor has shaken the dust off the 2009 water bond proposal and come to an agreement on the new bill with lots of little gifts for every water interest. $7.1 billion of the bill is new spending; the remaining $400 million is redirected from older bonds to new purposes. This is a reduction in the $11 billion for the 2009 and 2001 versions and an increase from the $6 billion originally proposed by the Governor. The water bill which can be read in its entirety at this link includes:
  • $1.495 billion for ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration- repair and restore streams, wetlands and fish habitats. 
  • $ 810 million for projects to improve regional water self-reliance, security and adapt to the effects on water supply from climate change.
  • $725 million for grants or loans for water recycling for sewage and installation of advanced treatment technology projects for sewage treatment plants. 
  • $900 million for projects to restore or protect groundwater that serves as or has served as a drinking water supply.
  • $2.7 billion for water storage projects that improve the operation of the state water system, are cost effective, and provide a net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions as determined by the California Water Commission, a nine member board appointed by the Governor. Seven members of the Commission are chosen for their general expertise related to the control, storage, and beneficial use of water and two are chosen for their knowledge of the environment. 
The state legislators from the central valley expect that $2.7 billion for water storage will go to build two new dams. However, the hoped for dams face tremendous opposition from environmental groups. In addition, the life of old dams in California is limited and cannot reasonably be prolonged due to the eroding geology. The reservoirs on Lake Meade, Hetch Hetchy and the Stanislaus River are slowly becoming silted and will be in my lifetime vast bodies of mud. California might use this money to ensure the continued supply of water from the regions or those reservoirs.

Even in “normal” years, the water resources in California have become stretched. Water deliveries from some key water projects have been permanently reduced due to environmental restrictions, while other systems struggle with leaking pipes, and canals, aging infrastructure and other challenges. Sporadic wet years have encouraged the expansion of lands under cultivation even as the population has grown and all the slack in the system is gone. California appears to be experiencing longer periods of drought and needs to adjust to a future of changing rain and snowfall patterns.

California needs a rational management of all water resources available within the state to ensure water supplies for necessary human consumption (not green lawns) and appropriate agriculture that employs smart irrigation – shifting a large portion of the crops irrigated using flood irrigation to sprinkler and drip systems. It may not be reasonable to have rice farmers in California no matter how senior their water rights. Water cannot be used beyond what is sustainable and hard choices must be made. In addition California must manage its groundwater resources. Proper management and use of groundwater as nature’s reservoir used in a sustainable way is essential in developing a sustainable California.

USGS Poland 1977

California, water rights have generally been allocated on the basis of seniority. Senior rights-holders have more reliable and thus more valuable water supplies. Legally, some of these water rights holders actually hold long-term “contract entitlements” rather than “rights” to surface water; in these cases, they have contracts with federal or state agencies that run large water projects and hold the associated water rights. The federally-owned Central Valley Project (CVP) is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) that grants and negotiates contracts and most of the contracts will expire in the next 15 years. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) “owns” for the California state-owned State Water Project (SWP). However, what California does about their water crisis will impact the rest of the United States.

California grows $45 billion dollars of food a year. Some of the nuts and fruits they grow are only grown in California. Without irrigation, crops could never be grown in the arid and semi-arid lands of California where irrigation consumes more than 75% of the consumed water supply. The water rights system as conceived and administered in the western states was not designed to conserve water or to be sustainable. It was developed in a time when population was still sparse, water supplies were believed to be plentiful and development and growth was to be encouraged. This water rights scheme has resulted in non-sustainable use of groundwater and unsustainable agricultural practices in a state that no longer has any connection to their water resources. All the water comes from somewhere else, unseen. However, it may not be too late, but keep your eyes on Iran to see how this might play out. Well wishes to those in Napa recovering from the earthquake..

No comments:

Post a Comment