The State Water Board on Tuesday approved an update to dredge and fill procedures for wetlands considered waters of the state. According to staff, the new resolution simply reflects a recent court decision that the board cannot centralize all of its water plans and policies under one regulatory umbrella. For water interests, however, the resolution raised significant concerns and could create conflicts with regulations that directly impact agriculture. Valerie Kincaid, an attorney representing a coalition of valley water agencies, contended the new resolution fails to comply with the judgement and threatens to compromise the board’s integrity.
Three California state agencies today released a draft water resilience portfolio intended to help the state manage more extreme droughts and floods, aging infrastructure, declining fish populations and other challenges.
The California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Food and Agriculture developed the draft to fulfill Governor Gavin Newsom’s April 29, 2019 executive order calling for a portfolio of actions to ensure the state’s long-term water resilience and ecosystem health.
“The portfolio approach to water supply reliability is a significant advance in how our most precious resource is managed statewide, in line with our long-term strategy in San Diego County,” said Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority. “As we review the details of the new plan, we will continue collaborating with the state agencies and other partners to turn this vision into a reality that benefits our region.”
State agency leaders tour water infrastructure in San Diego County
Several state officials visited San Diego County on July 18, 2019 to assess the region’s water projects as part of their role in developing a water portfolio strategy for the state.
Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, Deputy Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Gibson, State Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, and State Water Resources Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel got a first-hand look at investments to diversify the region’s water supply, including the San Vicente Reservoir, Olivenhain Reservoir, and the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.
“San Diego is a great example of the challenges and complexities of managing water supply, as we look to supercharge water resiliency in California,” said E. Joaquin Esquivel, Chair, Calif. State Water Resources Control Board, after the July tour of water infrastructure.
Newsom’s order directed his administration to “identify and assess a suite of complementary actions to ensure safe and resilient water supplies, flood protection and healthy waterways for the state’s communities, economy and environment.”
Draft Water Resilience Portfolio encourages ‘collaboration within and across regions’
“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,” said Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot in a news release from the three agencies. “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.”
The draft release comes after several months of public input, and listening sessions, including comments from the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.
Draft Water Resilience Portfolio outlines more than 100 integrated actionable recommendations in four broad areas:
Maintain and diversify water supplies
State government will continue to help regions reduce reliance on any one water source and diversify supplies to enable flexibility amidst changing conditions. Diversification will look different in each region based on available water resources, but the combined effect will strengthen resilience and reduce pressure on river systems.
Protect and enhance natural ecosystems
State leadership is essential to restore the environmental health of key river systems to sustain fish and wildlife. This requires effective standard-setting, continued investments, and more adaptive, holistic environmental management.
State actions and investment will improve physical infrastructure to store, move, and share water more flexibly and integrate water management through shared use of science, data, and technology.
Each region must prepare for new threats, including more extreme droughts and floods and hotter temperatures. State investments and guidance will enable preparation, protective actions, and adaptive management to weather these stresses.
To develop the portfolio, state agencies conducted an inventory and assessment of key aspects of California water, soliciting broad input from tribes, agencies, individuals, groups, and leaders across the state.
“From Northern California to the Central Valley and the South, Californians from cities, farms, and other sectors are working together to develop innovative solutions to the climate-related water challenges that the state is already experiencing and that are expected to worsen,” said California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld. “This draft portfolio is an important step toward building resilience to ensure the long-term health of our water supplies and ecosystems.”
Public comments on draft portfolio
The public will be able to submit written feedback on the draft portfolio through February 7. A final water resilience portfolio will be released soon after that.
“State agencies are only one set of water decision-makers in California,” California Secretary for Food and Agriculture Karen Ross said. “Continuing to improve our water systems relies on collaboration across all groups of water users and all stakeholders. Accordingly, feedback on this draft will be important to refining and finalizing our portfolio.”
The Water News Network’s top three stories of 2019 reflect the San Diego region’s interest in water conservation, sustainable landscaping, and successful efforts to diversify water supply sources.
Colorful art created by elementary school students communicated the importance of saving water. This was the most viewed story of 2019.
January 13, 2019
Eighteen talented San Diego, Coronado and Imperial Beach elementary school students used their artistic skills to communicate the importance of water conservation in the City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department 18th annual Kids Poster Contest. Winning entries in the contest are featured in the 2019 Water Conservation Calendar, which debuts this month.
“The City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department is proud to sponsor the yearly Kids Poster Contest,” said Brian Hojnacki, a supervising management analyst for city utilities. “It allows us to involve first to sixth graders through art while learning and thinking about water conservation in our region. It’s a win-win for us all.”
The theme “How Am I A Water Conservation Hero?” asked students to imagine themselves saving water from being wasted. They could draw, paint, color, cut and paste original artwork depicting one important message about water conservation.
People living in the San Diego region continue to take advantage of rebate opportunities that encourage sustainability. A program that provided incentives to remove grass and replace it with sustainable landscaping proved popular in the spring. The Water News Network story about the rebates was also popular and the second-most read story of 2019.
April 8, 2019
Removing grass can generate rebates of at least $2 per square foot for San Diego residents under new enhanced incentives that started this month.
As of April 1, the Metropolitan Water District is offering $2 per square foot for every square foot of grass removed from yards and replaced with sustainable landscaping.
“San Diego County homeowners and businesses know that sustainable landscapes are key to water reliability in our region,” said Joni German, who manages the Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program. “With the help of local landscape architects and designers, our WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program gives them the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. WaterSmart landscapes are an upgrade, not a compromise.”
The San Diego County Water Authority sustains a $245 billion regional economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents through a multi-decade water supply diversification plan, major infrastructure investments and forward-thinking policies that promote fiscal and environmental responsibility.
California officials toured some of that infrastructure in July as they worked to prepare a water resilience portfolio for the state. Our reporting on the July 18 water portfolio tour was the third most read story of 2019 on the Water News Network.
July 18, 2019
State officials Thursday toured San Diego County water infrastructure to get a first-hand look at the region’s successful water portfolio approach for supply diversification.
California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot, Deputy Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Gibson, State Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, and State Water Resources Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel were here to assess the region’s water projects as part of their new role in developing a water portfolio strategy for the state.
“San Diego has been a leader in the water portfolio approach,” said Wade Crowfoot. “We have to make the investments to build regional water resilience as part of the Governor’s order to develop a portfolio to manage water in California.”
Regional collaboration and partnerships are needed to solve cross-border water issues, according to San Diego County Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer.
“The Water Authority is exploring innovative solutions to increase water supply reliability for the San Diego region, but also Baja California and the Southwest,” said Madaffer during today’s opening ceremony of RE:BORDER 2019 at San Diego State University. “Those solutions include the possibility of a transborder water connection that can help both Mexico and the United States.”
Madaffer’s special presentation, “Stewarding a Shared Resource for the Bi-National Region,” was part of the two-day RE:BORDER 2019 conference. It continues Tuesday at the Universidad Autónoma De Baja California in Tijuana.
‘The Water We Share’
The theme for the inaugural binational conference is “The Water We Share.” The goal is to forge regional solutions for transborder water issues by breaking down academic, political, and administrative boundaries.
In his opening remarks, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, was optimistic about solving Tijuana sewage issues, such as polluted runoff flowing into the Tijuana River causing beach closures in Imperial Beach and Coronado.
Momentum increasing for cross-border solutions
“I’ve never seen more momentum than I have in the past six months to solve this cross-border sewage issue,” said Faulconer. “It is a true international issue that we can solve.”
‘Borders are arbitrary, but we are connected’
California State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel delivered the keynote address.
“The borders are arbitrary, but we are completely connected,” Esquivel told a crowd of about 200 people in Montezuma Hall. “Infrastructure investments are needed on both sides of the border, and we know with climate change, the entire watershed will be an entirely different place in the future.”
Day 2 sessions in Tijuana will examine how the transborder region will be affected by climate change – including greater risks of floods, landslides and wildfires – how reduced water for agriculture could impact the region, and on-going concerns about uneven access to water resources.
RE:BORDER is a new initiative from San Diego State University President Adela de la Torre that each year will examine a significant issue. The RE:Border 2020 conference is scheduled for November 12 and 13.
A two-day conference in San Diego and Tijuana seeks to forge regional solutions for cross-border water issues by breaking down academic, political and administrative boundaries.
The theme of RE:BORDER 2019 is “The Water We Share.” RE:BORDER is a new initiative from San Diego State University President Adela de la Torre that each year will examine a significant transborder issue of the California-Baja California border region in partnership with our Mexican university and community collaborators.
The binational conference kicks off at San Diego State University at 9 a.m. on November 25 and continues the next day at the Universidad Autónoma De Baja California (UABC) in Tijuana.
Water industry officials and elected leaders from the U.S. and Mexico will join university researchers for a series of panel discussions that explore how SDSU, UABC, and regional partners – including the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies – can contribute to innovative solutions for water-related challenges in the transborder region.
Water knows no borders
“When we think about water in every dimension, whether it’s the ocean, to the rivers, to the creeks across the Tijuana River Watershed, there are no borders,” said SDSU President Adela de la Torre. “The conference is a first step toward creating solutions that allow both countries to be collaborative and learn from each other.”
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer will deliver opening remarks at SDSU followed by a special presentation by San Diego County Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. California State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel is scheduled to deliver the keynote address. State Senator Juan Vargas will close the first day of the conference.
“Water issues and challenges require collaboration on both sides of the border to reach solutions that transcend political boundaries,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies continue to develop local projects and explore opportunities that benefit the region, including Mexico and the Southwest.”
Cross border water challenges and solutions
Water reuse, access to a safe water supply, and the political and administrative boundaries in the transborder region are among the topics for discussion at SDSU.
Water Authority Assistant General Manager Dan Denham is one of several panelists who will explore transborder water challenges from the perspectives of regional stakeholders such as farmers, local and state agencies and environmental groups.
Elsa Saxod, a Water Authority board member representing the City of San Diego, will participate in a panel session that looks at the binational management of the Tijuana River Watershed.
Climate change and the transborder region
Topics for Day 2 of the conference in Tijuana include climate change, water security and risks, water and food, and water and equity.
The sessions will examine how the transborder region will be affected by climate change – including greater risks of floods, landslides and wildfires – how reduced water for agriculture impacts the region, and on-going concerns about uneven access to water resources.
“Tijuana and San Diego form a region closely linked by their economies, societies and culture,” said Natanael Ramírez Angulo, director of the Faculty of Economics and International Relations at UABC. “Understanding the problems and challenges involved in the management and use of water, an essential natural resource, must be a priority not only for governments but also for society itself, and we believe that universities can provide valuable knowledge that can help generate programs and policies that help local and federal governments to be successful in addressing this issue.”
For E. Joaquin Esquivel, California has made great strides in fighting climate change and transitioning to a cleaner energy sector.
Now, he said, it’s water’s turn.
“Water, I think, is ready for that moment,” said Esquivel, the chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board who took over from longtime chair Felicia Marcus in February.
The board has a broad mandate to oversee water resources and drinking water for the protection of the environment, public health, and other uses. That includes managing water rights and dealing with rural water issues, the latter of which is the topic of an Oct. 8 webinar on which Esquivel is speaking.
The State of California, after resolving key hurdles, is set to move forward on a restoration project at the Salton Sea to improve habitat for migratory birds, while covering more exposed sea bed.
When the State Water Resources Control Board last met to discuss the status of the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP), Chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel called upon the State to resolve issues causing delays in the State’s lead project at the sea—Species Conservation Habitat.
Resolution was reached on several of the issues in May, and now the state can move forward with a design-build plan for constructing the habitat project. Development of the project is a tangible sign of the Salton Sea Management Plan being implemented.
Wetlands project completed
Smaller-scale restoration projects at the Salton Sea are moving forward. California agencies, the Salton Sea Authority, and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe completed a 60-acre wetlands project on the northern end of the sea. Additionally, work is advancing on the 500-plus acre Red Hill Marina wetlands project on the southeast side of the sea. Earthwork is complete, pipelines are in place, and pumps have been ordered and are on their way.
But, the Species Conservation Habitat project is the shining piece of phase one of California’s 10-year approach to the Salton Sea Management Program. It is a proof of concept project that would lay the groundwork for projects to come. The habitat project spans nearly 4,000 acres and entails building a series of ponds that would provide a controlled habitat to manage a fish population, which, in return, would provide a food source for migratory birds. Most importantly, it is a habitat project that would cover an expansive area of exposed playa.
Land issues resolved
What makes the Species Conservation Habitat project so critical is that it has already gone through the permitting phase for the entire 4,000 acres and is ready to move forward with construction. Those who follow the Salton Sea issues anticipated SCH would already be moving forward by now in a phased approach that would have seen about 640 acres completed first. However, an easement issue, lack of staff dedicated to the SSMP, and a learning curve associated with a design-build project delivery process – led to delays in the project.
With land issues resolved, the fact that California is increasing its staff dedicated to the Salton Sea and the Salton Sea Management Plan, and state agencies becoming more familiar with the design-build project delivery method, several obstacles impeding progress have been removed. The 4,000-acre project is expected to start this year be completed in 2023.
The State Water Resources Control Board will likely be holding a new workshop on the Salton Sea in the near future. By then, the State is to have a recovery plan as a path forward to prevent future delays in project development.