All of us remember California’s recent five-year drought when residents were encouraged to cut back their water use, let their lawns go brown, and use barrels to collect precious rainwater. Now, well-funded, politically-connected interest groups are trying to block a new source of clean drinking water for Southern California. According to a recent report by the State Water Resources Control Board, more than one million Californians don’t have access to safe, reliable drinking water.
The San Diego County Water Authority today praised Gov. Gavin Newsom for taking a proactive, far-sighted approach to water supply planning for California, and pledged to help the governor advance his portfolio strategy for water security in the face of a changing climate.
In a letter to Newsom, Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer thanked the governor for the “wisdom and leadership” shown last week with the issuance of Executive Order N-10-19 and invited the governor to tour San Diego County’s cutting-edge water facilities.
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.” Newsom then directed state agencies to scrap Brown Administration plans for a $18 billion two-tunnel system for moving water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta in favor of a one-tunnel system.
“We congratulate you on Executive Order N-10-19 and stand ready to support you and work with other stakeholders to ensure its success,” Madaffer wrote to Newsom. “If state and federal dollars are prioritized to support local, integrated planning solutions, we will realize the State’s 2009 promise to reduce demand on the Bay-Delta.”
Portfolio Planning For Water Security
The Water Authority has a long history of both portfolio planning for the region’s water security and supporting a portfolio approach to address mounting environmental and water supply challenges in the Bay-Delta, the hub of the State Water Project.
“Almost two decades ago, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors chose to take affirmative steps to change what had been an ‘end-of-the-pipeline’ mentality, when our agency relied greatly on water imported from the Bay-Delta,” Madaffer said. “In other words, we embraced then the intent of Executive Order N-10-19, and believe our experience is proof that it can be done.”
In 2013, the Water Authority joined several Southern and Northern California water districts, Natural Resources Defense Council, and other conservation groups in proposing a Portfolio Alternative for the Bay-Delta. That proposal included a single tunnel, increasing water storage south of the Bay-Delta, and significant investments in local and regional water supplies.
That approach didn’t gain enough support in the Brown administration, but it aligns closely with Gov. Newsom’s executive order.
The portfolio approach also aligns with what history has shown to be a highly successful strategy in San Diego County, which relied almost entirely on water supplies controlled by external interests in 1991.
“After suffering the devastating impacts of drought and water shortages that year, our community got to work, determined to gain local control over the cost and reliability of our water,” Madaffer said. “Since then, the Water Authority and its member agencies have invested over $2 billion in local projects.”
Those investments include:
- The nation’s largest agricultural water conservation and transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District
- The first new dam in the county in more than 50 years at Olivenhain Reservoir
- The nation’s largest seawater desalination plant, producing up to 56,000 acre-feet of water annually
- The raising of San Vicente Dam, more than doubling its capacity
- Water-use efficiency programs that have helped reduce per capita potable water use by more than 40 percent in San Diego County
“Every dollar of investment the Water Authority has made represents a commensurate reduction of take on the Bay-Delta,” said Madaffer’s letter.
He noted that the Water Authority and its member agencies are still at work, with more local projects on the drawing board, including a Pure Water potable reuse program being developed by the City of San Diego and the East County Advanced Water Purification Project.
“We are also continuing to plan for the future, with an upcoming study that will explore water, conveyance, storage, treatment and energy opportunities with strategic partners in Imperial Valley, Mexico and across the Southwest,” Madaffer said. “This initiative is the next generation of the Water Authority’s evolution, and the ‘poster child’ for your Portfolio Alternative.”
The Water Authority is looking at new integrated solutions such as a storage account in Lake Mead that would help raise water levels in the drought-stressed reservoir and avoid formal shortage conditions that could hamper water deliveries across the Southwest. The Water Authority also is supporting a Salton Sea action plan that will protect both the environment and public health; binational opportunities with Mexico; and clean energy generation.
Gov. Gavin Newsom set a welcome new course on California water issues Thursday when he officially killed the $19 billion Delta twin tunnels project. What a relief. One of the state’s biggest long-term challenge is securing a reliable source of water for residents, businesses and farmers without destroying the environment. The problem is further exacerbated by the anticipated impacts of climate change. We never understood former Gov. Jerry Brown’s stubborn support of the twin-tunnels effort, which involved digging the equivalent of a 10-lane freeway, 150 feet underground. Nor could we fathom why the Santa Clara Valley Water District board voted to support the project, knowing that the governor had essentially turned the boondoggle over to Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District to run.
California State Treasurer Fiona Ma announced the competitive sale this week of $299.6 million in California Department of Water Resources water system revenue bonds to refinance certain State Water Project capital improvements, including a portion of the costs of the Oroville Dam Spillways Response, Recovery and Restoration Project. “These funds will be used to finance the reconstruction of the Oroville dam spillways to help provide flood control and water supply throughout California,” said Treasurer Ma. The main spillway chute of Oroville Dam experienced damage in 2017 due to heavy rains during the wettest January and February in 110 years of Feather River hydrologic record.
As a result of improved water supply conditions, the California Department of Water Resources on Wednesday announced an increase in 2019 State Water Project allocations. State Water Project contractors south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are set to receive 35 percent of their requests for the 2019 calendar year, up from 15 percent allocation announced last month. Allocations are reviewed monthly based on snowpack and runoff information and are typically finalized by May.
The Bureau of Reclamation released the Biological Assessment for the re-initiation of consultation on the coordinated long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The document was transmitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service for consideration in developing new biological opinions covering CVP and SWP operations. Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources re-initiated consultation in 2016 based on new information related to multiple years of drought and ongoing science efforts.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today announced a statewide increase in State Water Project allocations for 2019. The majority of SWP contractors now stand to receive 15 percent of their requests for the 2019 calendar year, up from the initial 10 percent announced in December. Allocations are based on conservative assumptions and may change depending on rain and snow received this winter. “The adjustment in allocations is the result of increased precipitation in December and January, which is good news,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “However, we must continue to account for climate change and the variability of California’s weather and balance the need for flood capacity during the winter while maintaining reserves in anticipation of future dry periods.”
Water officials discussed Monday extending the supply contract for the State Water Project, a program that provides water for 25 million people and irrigates more than 750,000 acres of California farmland, for a 50-year period. Members of the Board of Directors for Foothill Municipal Water District — which distributes water imported from Metropolitan Water District to customers of the La Cañada Irrigation District, Valley Water Co. and the Crescenta Valley and Mesa Crest water districts, among others — considered the matter in a regular board meeting.
During California’s recent five-year drought, it was common to hear people asking why the state doesn’t build more dams. On Tuesday, flush with cash from voters, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to finally do just that, committing nearly $1 billion to build two huge dam projects in the Bay Area and an additional $1.5 billion for six big water projects from the Sacramento Valley to Bakersfield.
A judge denied a request Thursday by a federal water management agency for more time to evaluate the environmental impacts of California’s water transfer program that allows some water rights holders to sell water to parched farms in the southern part of the state. U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to come up with its full environmental analysis of a 10-year water transfer program by the end of June.