California Water Commission, part 2: An update on the implementation of the California Water Action Plan

At the July 16 meeting of the California Water Commission, Kris Tjernell, Special Assistant for Water Policy with the Natural Resources Agency, gave an update on the implementation of the California Water Action Plan.

July2014_Agenda_Item_8_Attach_2_Powerpoint_Page_2Sustainable water management is the overarching goal for water policy in California, and there are a lot of definitions of what sustainable water management is,” began Kris Tjernell, presenting a slide with a definition quoted from the California Water Plan 2013 update.

There are some common themes that run between this and other visions and definitions of sustainable water management that are out there,” he said. Those include basic necessities and quality of life factors, health and human safety, public health related to clean and affordable access to drinking water, continued economic growth, and in the case of California, continued economic leadership; agricultural productivity and the preservation of agricultural heritage, and certain watershed ecosystem vitality and resilience is often a common theme, he said.

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These are big goals but they are absolutely possible, and it is a worthwhile endeavor to do our best to achieve all of those across the board,” he said. “We here in California, however, have a very unique suite of challenges that must be dealt with in both the near-term and the long-term if we are to truly obtain sustainable water management.” Mr. Tjernell listed those challenges: uncertain water supplies, water scarcity/drought, declining groundwater supplies, poor water quality, declining native fish species and loss of wildlife habitat, floods, supply disruptions, population growth and climate change.

There’s nothing like an extreme drought like the one we’re in now to put even a finer point on the challenges that California faces,” he said. “Reservoir lows, historic lows across the state, and public health concerns with the drought impacting and enhancing the effects of our ongoing challenges. Access to clean drinking water and groundwater supplies for small communities, oftentimes disadvantaged communities can be a challenge, and this year it’s absolutely a challenge. CalFire has responded to over 3000 wildfires so far this year, that’s 700 more than on a typical year, so that’s quite significant.”

TjernellThe California Water Action Plan was essentially developed to address the ongoing water challenges that are clearly exacerbated from the current drought scenario and to lay a foundation for sustainable water management long into the future, he said. “It’s developed as a 5 year plan, not with necessarily the expectation that end of that five years, we will have achieved sustainable water management in California,” Mr. Tjernell said. “I think that it’s safe to say that is a longer term objective, but there are absolutely things, both big picture and more specifically over the course of the next five years, to set a very strong foundation for achieving that sustainable goal.”

The Governor charged the Natural Resources Agency, Cal EPA, and the Cal Department of Food and Ag to work together in collaboration, soliciting input from a broad stakeholder community to provide the leadership necessary to develop the water action plan, he said. “The action plan was to have three overarching goals: reliability, restoration and resilience. Reliability generally refers most to reliable water supplies; restoration is restored ecosystems, healthy fisheries and reduced conflicts between water management decisions and the environment, and resilience is if the water system is able to handle both the known and the currently unknown stresses that we will face in the future, many of these associated with climate change.”

The action plan has 10 broad actions, each with a subset of specific sub-actions; they include things such as making conservation a way of life, increase regional self reliance, integrated strategies, achieve the coequal goals for the Delta, protect and restore important ecosystems, manage and prepare for dry periods, increase storage and groundwater management, provide safe drinking water for all communities, increase flood protection, reduce flood risk, increase operational and regulatory efficiency and identify sustainable financing opportunities, he said.

We fully acknowledge these are not new ideas,” Mr. Tjernell admited. “One of the things that’s key about the Water Action Plan is that it reflects an integration of things we know we need to do in the short and long term with new ideas, and it’s a very strong statement of the state’s commitment to collaborate with all levels of government, non-profit sector, private sector, etc, to really get this work done.”

He then discussed where the administration is at with respect to implementation of the plan. “First year is strategy,” he said. “We all would have loved not to have the drought conditions that we currently do but it’s what we were given, so first our strategy in many ways largely driven by the extreme drought that we are experiencing, but not at the expense of really starting to lay the foundation for the longer term strategy for sustainable water management.

In December of last year, the Governor convened a multi-agency interagency state drought task force with DWR, Dept of Food and Ag, Cal EPA, and the Office of Emergency Services, he said, noting that they formed a task force who continues to meet regularly, largely leading the state’s drought response efforts and providing that overall leadership to local governments as well.

The Water Action Plan was released in January, the Governor declared a state of emergency in January as well. And as is typical for January, the Governor’s proposed budget was released, so January was quite a busy month for water action plan related issues, he said.

In February and March, SB 103 & 104 were developed and signed into law. “This was essentially the legislature and ultimately the administration’s attempt to move even more quickly, to get out a significant amount of funding, in both general obligation bond funds, special funds, essentially everything that was reasonable to grab at the time to make a really strong stand for drought relief, and set that foundation for longer-term sustainable water management. In April another executive order was signed, redoubling the drought efforts from the administration.”

Mr. Tjernell then gave some highlights of SB 103 & 104:

  • Over $540 million for local and regional infrastructure projects, mostly focused through the IRWM program at DWR.
  • $40 million from AB 32 cap and trade revenues were directed to state programs. “Very significant because of the precedent that I think that is sets,” Mr. Tjernell added.
  • $10 million for the State Water Project deal with water efficiency and energy efficiency upgrades.
  • $20 million to the local agencies through grants getting at the water energy nexus.
  • $10 million through CDFA for the agricultural sector to reduce on-farm water use while boosting on-farm energy efficiency while keeping and even growing productivity.
  • $60 million for direct assistance to those communities most in need across California, many in the Central Valley and Central Coast and other places, including food assistance, housing-related assistance, and drought-related emergency drinking water resources.

In June, a final state budget was negotiated and signed into law by the Governor that included additional drought-relief funding, he said. “Most of what the administration had proposed for water action plan implementation and drought relief in the January budget was passed into law more quickly via the SB 103 & 104, so what that provided was another opportunity in the vehicle of the state budget to reassess and appropriate even more funding to get key drought relief and Water Action Plan issues.”

Those include forest fire prevention and response funding, significant funding for coastal and inland salmonid monitoring and habitat restoration projects, additional food assistance, $18 million for surface and groundwater assessments and related activities, and $4 million for water rights enforcement and curtailments, he said.

July2014_Agenda_Item_8_Attach_2_Powerpoint_Page_8There is a lot of community outreach and assistance, and a lot of good information available to communities across the state through state resources for those most in need; SB 103 & SB 104 had a lot of funding which will go out via grant programs which are being developed, he said.

Water bond negotiations are ongoing and are potentially a source of significant ongoing funding in the near-term for water action plan implementation, and groundwater policy development and planning for year 2 of the water action plan. “This year was quite busy, heavily focused on the financial side, as we had some resources available, and oftentimes that’s the quickest thing to do. There’s been a lot of focus on the groundwater policy this year, but very much looking forward to shifting a bit as we move into year 2 from reaction and response to forward looking planning and thoughtful response, to really laying that foundation for long term sustainable water management in California.”

So with that …

Coming next …

  • Posting tomorrow, an update on Sites Reservoir, including a discussion of how Sites would add flexibility to the state’s overall water system.

For more information …

 

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