SGMA IMPLEMENTATION: Briefing on the Water Available for Replenishment Report

DWR’s Jim Wieking briefs California Water Commission on the report concept and what’s in it; also an update on the Water Storage Investment Program

At the March meeting of the California Water Commission, Jim Wieking from the Department of Water Resource’s Division of Statewide Integrated Water Management briefed the Commissioners on the Water Available for Replenishment Report (WAFR).

The Department of Water Resources was directed to prepare the report in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act legislation.  Mr. Wieking noted that there are only two one-sentence mentions of  ‘water available for replenishment’ in the legislation:  The first sentence is explicit for the report itself, instructed the Department to produce a report published on the internet website that represents the Department’s best estimate, based on available information of water available for replenishment in the state.  The second sentence is in the description of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, where GSAs are going to be required in their groundwater sustainability plans to provide a description of surface water supply used or available for use for groundwater recharge.  “These are real similar initiatives,” said Mr. Wieking.  “One for the state, and the other for the groundwater sustainability agencies on a more local or regional level.”

In his presentation, Mr. Wieking said he would provide a background on how the concept for the report was developed as well as some information about what’s in the report.  “What we wanted to be able to do is provide a little bit of both something to meet the first legislative direction and provide some estimates on a statewide level, which is more of a conceptual effort,” he said.  “But we also wanted to acknowledge that GSAs locally will be working on project level analysis, and so we wanted to provide a little bit of direction and guidance in terms of thinking about water available for replenishment.

One of the conclusions they came to was that in order to get to replenishment, there are generally two project or management actions needed: One project or management action that makes water available first, and another project or management action that facilitates replenishment.  They also recognized that projects or management actions can be developed locally, regionally, or even statewide.

Mr. Weiking noted that the estimates in the report are conceptual.  “We’re reporting at a geographic scope that is more familiar to water plan folks – hydrologic region and planning area levels.”

The report acknowledges there are a few different techniques for making water available for replenishment: surface water, water conservation, recycled water, desalination, and water transfers.  “We’re saying there’s a portfolio of actions that can be taken to make water available, and when those are appropriately combined with a replenishment effort, then replenishment can be accomplished for groundwater basins.”

Mr. Wieking then focused on surface water, and the estimated availability of surface water for replenishment.  He said they used two tools mainly: A simple gauge data analysis using spreadsheets and using historic gauge data information, and the Water Evaluation and Planning system (WEAP).  “So what we have with these two efforts is a historic look on one hand, but then also a more current look at the system in terms of hydrology and use now and into the future.”

Mr. Wieking then explained the concept of how they used the gauge data.  He presented an example hydrograph and explained, “What we’re essentially showing conceptually is that you have an instream flow requirement which is the bottom horizontal line in green and then you have a project capacity and that’s effectively the distance between the instream flow and the red horizontal line, so your ability to capture water will be the amount of water in between those two lines, very simply.”

The two analysis tools were used together to come up with the estimates.  For instream flow requirements, they emphasized the use of existing instream flow requirements on streams, but in cases where there weren’t any existing instream flow requirements, they used methods that have been used in the past to estimate instream flow could be or should be on those streams, he said.  For project capacity, they used information from an online tool available at the State Water Board website that lists information on all the water rights in the state, which includes project capacity.

Conceptually, they assumed that the location of a conceptual project is at the outflow location.  “Since we did our evaluations based on hydrologic regions and planning areas, the outflow locations are the outflow locations of those geographic areas,” he said.  “We also made the assumption that replenishment and conveyance are not limiting.  The assumption is that conveyance would be built big enough to be able to handle the diversion quantity.  A replenishment action will be required, but we didn’t look at limitations of specific recharge projects because there’s different ways you can do the recharge. In some areas, it will be relatively easy to accomplish replenishment, and in other areas, it might be more challenging.”

The report provides a range of estimates.  Mr. Wieking said that they developed some conceptual projects:  A best estimate project that used existing project capacity and existing instream flow; a range if they went to half existing capacity as well as double; hypothetical innovation that could effectively capture water above the instream requirement which is kind of an unlimited project capacity.  They also provided a range of instream flow requirements, looking at the existing instream flow requirements, but also considering the potential of the existing requirement being found in the future to be insufficient and then maybe it could be doubled.

If you don’t build a project, there is no water available, so water available is just not a theoretical thing,” said Mr. Wieking.  “It’s developed by projects and depending on how big your project is, that will have an effect on how much is available for replenishment.”

He then presented an example of information in the report from the Central Coast, noting there’s a two-page spread for each hydrologic region.  The top graphic is the water balance or water budget found in the California Water Plan update; below that are surface water information and WAFR estimates.  “It shows total runoff, regional imports, demand for water in the region, exports, regional outflow, and then based on the regional outflow, we provide an estimate of water available for replenishment and the range of estimates.”

There is also groundwater information for the region, and the information is broken down by planning area.  There is applied water and artificial recharge, and the WAFR estimate as compared to those existing amounts of groundwater characteristics associated with that hydrologic region, he said.

On the right hand side of the page, they tabulated information from recent urban water management plans on the quantities of water that are currently in development right now to give a sense of scale of how much water could be made available potentially from within the regions and within in the planning areas, he said.  The pie indicates the amount of outflow and the hatched area represents the water available for replenishment estimate.  The groundwater basin prioritization is also shown to give a sense of where the water is in terms of planning areas potentially for replenishment and also how it relates to the groundwater basin prioritization.  Mr. Wieking noted that the information is further broken down by planning are in Appendix A.

A commissioner asks why recycled water is shown as zero.

In terms of water available, if it’s currently provided, then that’s not water available,” said Mr. Wieking.  “It’s already in use in that area, so it already has a purpose for its development and use.  Water available is about new water, and so if water is already developed and used, then the water available associated with that source is 0.”

He then presented a statewide breakdown.  “If you put all the regions of the state together in terms of water available for replenishment, total outflow in the state is 56 MAF,” he said.  “Outflow is the amount of water that actually flows out of the region, so in the case of the coastal regions, it would be the quantity of water that flows to the ocean, but even in the interior regions, it would include the water that flows out through the Delta and to the ocean.”

Relatively speaking, there’s a lot more water in the state in the northern half of the state which is an old story,” he said.  “Since we use existing projects, if it’s a more developed area, there are more projects and we’re going to show a greater amount available, so it’s biased towards what’s already been done.  We felt like that indicated an economic capacity and willingness to develop that water.

They also considered potential water available from statewide projects.  “What we wanted to show was what potential range could occur in the future, so what we did is we took the existing reliability of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project (the current reliability capability of those projects is about 4.6 MAF on average) and then we applied a range of different instream requirements in different new projects,” said Mr. Wieking.  “If you change effectively the instream requirement Criteria A and B, then you get a slightly different response in terms of the reliability of those projects, but then the availability would be associated with new projects.  So what we’re showing there is potential development of new storage facilities.  We have a north of Delta storage, a Delta conveyance, and then south of Delta storage, and then with everything together.”

So you can see there how much water is potentially available from those projects,” he said.  “Now whether that water would be applied for replenishment; that will be up to potential investors in those projects as to how they use that water, so we don’t know exactly how that’s going to happen, but again this is in our concept water available for replenishment.

In addition to the estimates, guidance and direction for GSAs about how to go about making water available can be found in Appendix C, which, in addition to surface water, there is potential for developing conservation, recycling, desalination, and water transfers; there are examples and some planning direction to go from concept to potential implementation.  In Appendix D, an acknowledgement that there’s two broad categories of accomplishing replenishment; in-lieu of where groundwater supplies are replaced with another source, and active recharge, where water is entering the groundwater basin through some kind of recharge facility.

Mr. Wieking then highlighted some of the report’s findings.  “Effective investments will probably be required in many locations,” he said.  “Our estimates for water available would not meet a water available analysis as required for a water right application to the State Board, so we have an explicit acknowledgement in our report that these are more conceptual approaches, and that when folks ultimately want to develop some surface water, they would want to go through a water right process that’s more refined.  Also achieving reliability and sustainability solutions for the Bay Delta is going to require local, state, and federal agencies to work together to come up with solutions.”

He said they are letting the GSAs know there is some guidance available to help them figure out how to do water available for replenishment planning; these initial estimates are just to get them kickstarted.  “We think that was the intention of the legislation,” he said.  “Our estimates are just a starting point for the local entities, and that depending on what they do or the projects they pursue, there’s a potential range of replenishment opportunities available to them.

The Department recently concluded the comment period, so they will be incorporating the comments into a final report which will be released this summer.

Commissioner Orth said that there is a concern that this report will become a standard or a bar that GSAs have to ascribe to.  “If they ascribe to the existing conditions assumptions that you’ve done here, this paints a pretty stark picture for a lot of parts of the state.  I can assure you that I think as SGMA was being developed for presentation to the legislatures, the intent was not to implement groundwater sustainability on the backs of the land retirement program, but that’s what a lot of this leads us to.  So I think as you consider the edits to the final report, I think it’s important to identify that this is one set of assumptions based on existing conditions.  This is where I think an opportunity was missed in doing some vision casting as to how the California Water Action Plan can perhaps enhance supplies available and create more opportunities regionally is important.  I think your bar chart with criteria A and Criteria B starts to tell that story, but frankly I think it could be perfected a bit.”

I think you can make it clear that this is information that GSAs may elect to use, but they are going to have the opportunity to develop much more refined local information that supports their plan and that the Department isn’t going to look at this and say, ‘we came up with 5,000 and you came up with 50,000 so we’re going to reject your 50,000,‘” Commissioner Orth continued.  “That has to be made clear – that you are deferring this to the locals.  This is a set of assumptions.  Then I think more emphasis on opportunities moving forward from an existing conditions perhaps, looking forward to what we might expect if we make these north of Delta, south of Delta conveyance improvements, that the opportunities there exist, which I think help us all see a much more positive outcome with SGMA then what this potentially paints.”

One thing I would mention is that in our presentations to a few local areas that have significant concerns about implementing SGMA, we heard a range of responses in terms of what we were going to show,” said Mr. Wieking.  “Some said, show a big number and some said, show nothing’s available.  So that again reinforced the notion of providing a range and again we want to emphasize that this is one example analytical approach that gives a certain answer.

WATER STORAGE INVESTMENT PROGRAM UPDATE

The Office of Administrative Law approved the regulations for the Water Storage Investment Program.  There is an addendum to the final statement of reasons as a result.

The application period for the Water Storage Investment Program opened March 14, and will be open until August 14.  There is page for application resources on the website where applicants can find application instructions and an online submittal tool.  Upload capacity to the website has been expanded to 2 gigs per file, 10 gigs per question.  Staff is working on a web portal where the applications and technical reviews will be posted.  Commission staff have also prepares a two-page document titled, “Considerations for Applicants”.  The document is intended to provide a way for prospective applicants to think through their projects and the program to see if there is a match.

An applicant workshop is scheduled for March 30th which will be webcast.  Webinars based on questions received at the workshop will be conducted in April.  They will be compiling a FAQ which will be posted on the application resource page.

Joe Yun told commissioners that staff have been having more interactions with perspective applicants, they have a few principles they have adopted.  First principle is to stick with what’s in the regulations.  “We supply regulation information, we refer to the regulations, and we help folks understand what’s in the regulations as we talk about their projects.  We allow those folks to make their own decisions once they understand what’s in the regulation, so we’re not saying ‘do this or do that’; we’re saying, ‘this is what the regs say, you need to look at that and figure out how your project’s going to show that or demonstrate that.’”

If we don’t have the answers right away, we defer, we take time, we go through the regs and we get back to folks,” he said.  “We are careful not to say anything that could be construed as a decision, as the decision will be made by the Commission at the specified time.  We work to not show a positive or negative bias by staff.  Another principle is what we do for one, we must do for everyone, so we try to treat everyone on equal footing, such as visiting sites.  We cannot visit every one, so we don’t visit any.”

Staff continues to work with DWR, State Board, and DFW as they meet with interested parties. They are trying to have joint meetings when possible.  They have been working internally with the other agencies to coordinate review efforts on how to share information and how to help with the efficiencies in their processes.

Commissioners then discussed Bagley Keene rules, and received clarification on what Commissioners should and should not do to stay in compliance.  There will be more discussion about this at the April Commission meeting.

For more information …

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