NEWS WORTH NOTING: Leading scientists voice support for Gov.’s water conservation plan; DWR releases reports to support SGMA implementation; Western Canal Water District joins Sites JPA; Secretary Jewell directs continued work on Colorado River Basin water agreements

Leading scientists voice support for Governor’s water conservation plan

Science letter emphasizes need for more efficient water use to help California prepare for a changing climate

Today, 36 leading water and climate scientists delivered a letter to Governor Brown to express their support for Executive Order B-37-16, and the state’s draft plan to make water conservation a California way of life. The plan has also received support from a diverse array of stakeholders, including the Building Industry Association, Moulton Niguel Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, Climate Resolve, WaterNow Alliance, California Coastkeeper Alliance, NRDC, Community Water Center, Pacific Institute, and Environmental Justice Coalition for Water.

“California cities, farms and ecosystems all compete for a limited water supply,” says the letter, and the drought has brought limits “sharply into focus.” Current water allocations may amount to over five times the state’s average annual supply, setting some areas on a path for serious shortages. According to the letter, California has made important progress improving water efficiency across agriculture, residential, industrial, and commercial sectors. But, it says, there is much more to be done to ensure a resilient and reliable future for California communities.

Scientists are tracking the impacts of climate change, including longer and more frequent droughts, and reduced snowpack. They are also documenting groundwater depletion and the severe land subsidence that results from over-pumping. The letter warns that the state’s “sometimes inefficient use of water, coupled with the uncertainty and variability of a changing climate,” pose “a real threat to our communities, economy, and environment.”

In order to boost the reliability of California’s water supply, the letter urges the state to continue its support for sustainable groundwater management and:

  • Prioritize water conservation and efficiency as the most cost-effective and energy efficient options to meet our long-term needs;
  • Invest in leak repair to reduce water lost during distribution;
  • Improve data collection to help us understand and manage water use in all sectors;
  • Develop more accurate water demand forecasts that reflect increased conservation and efficiency; and
  • Set local targets that reflect local conditions and a changing climate.

The Governor’s executive order calls for each of the state’s urban water utilities to work within water budgets, based on population, land use, tree cover, and other local factors that influence indoor and outdoor water use. Utilities can meet their targets by focusing on leak repair, indoor efficiency, or outdoor efficiency. Better data collection will be required across the board to help track progress.

The state is currently finalizing its implementation plan for the executive order, and is expected to release a final report on “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life” in early February.

DWR releases reports to support Sustainable Groundwater Management Act implementation

From Somach Simmons & Dunn:

Before the end of 2016, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued two publications that impact the long-term implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).  SGMA is significant legislation passed in 2014 that aims to establish sustainable groundwater management through groundwater sustainability agencies (GSA) and groundwater sustainability plans (GSP).

SGMA established several major deadlines for 2017.  By January 1, 2017, agencies choosing to meet their basin sustainability objectives through means other than the GSAs and GSPs were required to submit their alternative plans to DWR.  By the same date, DWR was required to publish best management practices for sustainable groundwater management.  DWR defines best management practices as “a practice, or combination of practices, that are designed to achieve sustainable groundwater management and have been determined to be technologically and economically effective, practicable, and based on best available science.”  Best management practices are intended to help guide GSAs in the development of GSPs.

Click here to continue reading at Somach Simmons & Dunn.

Western Canal Water District Joins Sites Reservoir Authority JPA

From the Western Canal Water District:

The Western Canal Water District (District) Board of Directors at their regular Board meeting voted unanimously to join the Sites Reservoir Joint Powers Authority (Sites JPA) and Reservoir Committee, citing the importance of increasing water supply reliability both regionally and throughout the State.

“Though we are not physically connected to the project we believe Sites Reservoir is a key infrastructure component to meet the demands of the environment without sacrificing agriculture, water quality and urban needs in a new flexible way.” Ted Trimble, General Manager. “Today DWR announced if Sites were in operation this year, we could have stored over 585,000 thousand acre-feet through January 17th,” he added.

“The District has been participating in the Sites JPA management and reservoir committees and we are confident our investment provides a unique regional perspective to make Sites a reality that California desperately needs,” Greg Johnson, President.

Secretary Jewell Directs Continued Work on Crucial Colorado River Basin Water Agreements

Further steps needed to reduce risk of water shortages in West

From the Department of the Interior:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today issued a Secretarial Order directing the Department of the Interior and its bureaus to continue collaborative efforts to finalize important drought contingency actions designed to reduce the risk of water shortages in the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins and build on recent progress to complete “Minute 32X” – a long-term Colorado River bi-national cooperative agreement with Mexico.

“I am proud of the tremendous progress we have made over the last eight years to work with our basin states, tribal and Mexican partners to address water resource challenges in the Colorado River Basin,” said Secretary Jewell. “With water from the Colorado River supporting the life and livelihood for an estimated 40 million people, it is absolutely critical for the Department of the Interior to continue to build on this progress and finalize these agreements.”

“The Department of the Interior has worked tirelessly with its partners to come to agreements to ensure that all the basin stakeholders move forward with coordinated plans to address the increasing challenges facing all Colorado River communities,” said Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor. “This Secretarial Order ensures that Interior will continue to provide essential support for critical actions and paves the way to help carry these important agreements across the finish line.”

The Order describes hydrologic conditions in the basin and ongoing challenges associated with a 17-year period of historic drought and an ongoing deficit of available water compared to demands. Although water stored in reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin has protected the Basin from crisis during the current drought, those reservoirs are now at near-historic lows; basin-wide reservoir storage ended water year 2016 at just 51 percent of total capacity. In 2016, the lower basin narrowly avoided a shortage declaration, which would trigger mandatory cuts to water deliveries from Lake Mead. Although recent precipitation brought some relief to northern California, there has been no measurable improvement in the Colorado River System.

In addition to drought contingency actions and updating the water agreement with Mexico, the agreements referenced in the Secretarial Order will maintain significant hydropower production and associated financial support for critical environmental programs, and they will help protect Indian treaty rights and recognized water rights.

The Secretarial Order provides direction for Interior, particularly the Bureau of Reclamation, to continue work with the basin states, Indian tribes in the Colorado River Basin and Mexico to finalize these agreements during the first half of 2017. It calls for three actions:

  1. Finalizing the Drought Contingency Plan. The order directs Reclamation to work with and support the efforts of the seven basin states and key principals of several water management agencies to finalize a Drought Contingency Plan that includes federal operations of Lower Basin facilities and proposed water conservation actions. Reclamation will participate in remaining negotiations and actions that are required to finalize agreements and provide information in support of any legislation that might be necessary to implement the final agreement.
  2. Investing to Support Drought Contingency Actions. In connection with the order, Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López today executed an agreement with Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community to provide the community with $6 million for water conservation in fiscal year 2017 funding to acquire system water consistent with the drought plan to protect levels in Lake Mead. This agreement between Reclamation and the Community also sets the stage for future drought contingency planning to occur within Arizona.

On the agreement, Governor Stephen Lewis stated, “Our agreement with the Department of the Interior is an essential step toward a plan for comprehensively addressing Arizona’s pressing drought problem. The Community is working hard to try and create a framework that will work for all in the State and is pleased with this very successful first step in that right direction. We want to thank the Commissioner of Reclamation, Estevan López, and his entire team for their tireless efforts and we very much appreciate our cooperation with them. This is just the beginning, but it an essential first step, which hopefully will keep the momentum going in the days and weeks ahead.”

In addition, under the order, Reclamation will continue to invest in drought contingency actions such as the recent Salton Sea Memorandum of Understanding with the State of California. Interior also amended its current Memorandum of Understanding with the State of California to provide greater certainty on mitigation actions over the next decade.

  1. Completing Minute 32X Negotiations with Mexico. The order directs Reclamation to continue to work with the International Boundary and Water Commission, the Republic of Mexico, the basin states and non-governmental organizations to finalize the bi-national cooperative agreement with Mexico – “Minute 32X.”

Over the past twenty years, collaboration between Interior and its bureaus along with American Indian tribes, the seven Colorado River basin states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—and others has resulted in significant success in collaboratively addressing water resource challenges across the basin. Today’s order includes information on these important successes, while highlighting the need for prompt action to respond to historic drought conditions and the increasing risk to water supplies in the basin from climate change and other factors.

These successes include the Minute agreements Numbers 316 through 319 with Mexico; a historic 12 Indian water rights settlements totaling $3 billion in funding; historic water conservation agreements adopted in 2014 and a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen coordination of management activities to benefit the Salton Sea.

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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