AENR Bill Spotlight: Water
March 30, 2023
The weather this year has been a challenge throughout California. Facing whiplash from drought, our counties are experiencing historic flooding, coastal erosion, and record snowpack. Counties are on the front lines of support when water emergencies, drought and flood occur. Our communities are dependent upon reliable water supply and flood control planning and distribution at the state and local level. While this year has been marked by flooding and historic snowpack levels, it is clear that these types of wet years are unreliable, and California will need to adapt to extremes in future flood and drought cycles.
As part of a new initiative, counties are joining forces with water agencies, agricultural organizations, and urban water interests to support projects that create new water supplies through a variety of means including recycling, water neutral developments, storm water capture, desalination, wastewater reclamation, watershed management, development of additional surface and groundwater storage, conveyance, and conservation.
Our CSAC Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources policy team is closely monitoring legislation and ensuring local governments are considered in the process by actively engaging in measures seeking to develop solutions to expand current water resources and meet the needs of residents, agricultural production, and industrial development.
The following are a few bills that CSAC has advocated a position on:
Also known as The California Water for All initiative, Senate Bill 366 is part of a newly established education effort called CA Water for All, seeking to educate policymakers on the urgent need for a legislative solution to address California’s ongoing water supply challenges. CSAC is a part of this coalition and a co-sponsor of SB 366.
The bill would establish long-term water supply targets for the State to achieve, require a financing plan, and would update the requirement that state agencies develop a plan to achieve those targets, in consultation with local water agencies, wastewater service providers and other stakeholders. Specifically, the bill would require a water supply planning target of 10 million acre-feet of water by 2040 and 15 million acre-feet of water by 2050. Currently, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) has calculated that the volume of water used by people in California for agricultural, urban, and environmental purposes ranges from 60 million acre-feet per year to 90 million acre-feet per year. In order to meet these targets, DWR would need to develop and make recommendations to streamline permits and approvals.
CSAC participated in the development of this bill through the Stream Gage Technical Advisory Committee. The bill would direct the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to, upon appropriation, reactivate, upgrade, and install new stream gages, and develop a plan to fund their long-term maintenance. This bill would also require DWR and the Water Board to identify the gaps in the network of weather stations and other water data infrastructure to ensure accurate and comprehensive data collection.
Comprehensive streamflow information and other water data are essential to manage water for multiple needs, including water supply, flood protection, water quality, and protection of critical freshwater ecosystems. By facilitating the creation of a robust and reliable network of water data infrastructure, this bill will allow state, federal, and local agencies to manage water more effectively.
The bill would prohibit a local agency from approving permits for groundwater wells in a critically over drafted basin until it obtains a written verification from the relevant groundwater sustainability agency determining that the well is consistent with sustainable groundwater management and determines that the well will not interfere with existing nearby wells. The bill imposes a moratorium on well creation if one percent of domestic wells in a jurisdiction go dry.
CSAC encourages legislation that focuses on movement to groundwater sustainability through the local implementation of SGMA, dedicated groundwater recharge, and expedited permitting for recharge events. We remain committed to establishing strong Groundwater Sustainability Plans, driven at the local level. This bill would restrict the local control of groundwater previously guaranteed by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The proposed requirements in the bill are untimely and include arbitrary criteria for establishing a well moratorium.
The bill would require a court, before finalizing a groundwater adjudication, to refer the proposed adjudication to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) for an advisory determination as to whether it will impair the ability of a groundwater sustainability agency (GSA), the State Water Board, or the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to achieve sustainable groundwater management. The State Water Board must consult with DWR before making its determination.
Comprehensive groundwater adjudications are notoriously complex, lengthy, and expensive legal proceedings. The bill as currently drafted is either duplicative of existing law or may serve as a means to provide a veto power over a judicial proceeding by the executive. Clarification is needed to ensure that the separation of powers is honored and to ensure that provisions are not duplicative.
CSAC’s efforts in relation to expanding water resources include having local government input on the Drought Resilience Interagency and Partners (DRIP) Collaborative. This is an interagency task force in coordination with the State Water Board and other relevant state agencies to facilitate proactive state planning and coordination for pre-drought planning, emergency response, and post-drought management.
Counties can now access a County Drought Resilience Planning Guidebook, updated Drought and Water Shortage Risk Tool, and a portal from DWR to foster learning. These materials were created using feedback gathered by counties and small water suppliers over the past year. For counties that require additional assistance, DWR is offering direct financial or technical support for planning activities. Interested counties can choose to receive up to $125,000 in reimbursement funds for eligible planning expenses or solicit direct technical experience when preparing their plans. All counties are eligible to apply for one form of assistance and can apply now on DWR’s County Drought Resilience Planning webpage. The first DRIP Collaborative meeting is scheduled for April 6.
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