NEWS WORTH NOTING: Ailing Northern California watersheds pose risk to reliability, quality of State’s water supply; California Water Commission receives applications for Proposition 1 funding

Ailing Northern California Watersheds Pose Risk to Reliability, Quality of State’s Water Supply

New study assesses damage to sources that feed Oroville and Shasta reservoirs

A new study, conducted by Pacific Forest Trust, shows that half of the source watersheds that supply northern California’s primary reservoirs are at risk due to impacts from climate change, management patterns and development. Findings indicate watershed function, already severely degraded, cannot be relied upon to sustain California’s water needs without significant repair and maintenance.

A Risk Assessment of California’s Key Source Watershed Infrastructure evaluates conditions, repair and maintenance needs for the Feather, Pit, McCloud, Upper Sacramento, and Upper Trinity River watersheds. These five sources feed the Oroville and Shasta reservoirs, which provide drinking water for over 28 million Californians and supply the large majority of the water for the State Water Project.

Climate change has significantly elevated existing threats to forest watersheds and downstream water supplies, especially from fire, drought, pest infestations and disease,” said Malcolm North, Research Forest Ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station. “Restoring forests and managing them to be more resilient is key to protecting water quality and security.”

Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation recognizing watersheds as a critical component of California’s water infrastructure, just like the state’s dams, canals and levees. AB 2480 established that the maintenance and repair of source watersheds is eligible for the same forms of financing as other water collection and treatment infrastructure, calling out these source watersheds for their specific importance.

“Last year, I authored AB 2480 to recognize the importance of source watersheds to California’s water infrastructure system,” said Assembly member Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). “I am pleased to see Pacific Forest Trust build on this legislation with a new Water Infrastructure Risk Assessment that will help the state prioritize its natural infrastructure and support watershed restoration.”

Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director and California’s state forester concurred, saying, “The strong connection between healthy forests and a clean, reliable water source underscores the need for swift and aggressive actions to mitigate threats to our forests.”

The study demonstrates how proven tools of restoration and protection of forested watersheds reduce flood events and intensity, increase water supply and storage, facilitate better timing of water releases and improve water quality. However, it highlights, watershed restoration thus far has been very limited and fragmented, leaving the broader landscape at significant risk.

“This assessment lays out the problems plaguing these water sources and what we need to do to fix them.” said Laurie Wayburn, President of Pacific Forest Trust. “It is the foundation of a comprehensive roadmap for what needs to be done with natural infrastructure in order to protect the state’s water security.”

California Water Commission Receives Applications for Proposition 1 Funding

From the California Water Commission:

California reached a major milestone in the effort to build new water storage this week as the California Water Commission (Commission) received 12 applications for funding under the Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP). Through the WSIP, the Commission will fund the public benefits of water storage projects that improve the operation of the state water system, are cost effective, and provide a net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions. A project must also provide measurable improvements to the Delta ecosystem or to the tributaries to the Delta in order to receive funding. The applications, which were submitted by the Aug. 14 deadline, seek a total of $5.8 billion in WSIP funding for projects with a combined construction cost of $13 billion.

The WSIP is funded by Proposition 1, the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Act of 2014. Chapter 8 of Proposition 1 dedicated $2.7 billion for investments in the public benefits of water storage projects and designated the Commission as the agency responsible for awarding these funds.

Of the 12 applications, six are for surface storage projects, five are for conjunctive use projects, and one is for a groundwater storage project. The WSIP may invest in the public benefits portion of some or all of these projects, subject to the determination of the Commission. Each project must provide ecosystem improvement benefits. Five applicants said that in addition to ecosystem improvement benefits, their projects would provide water quality improvement; four cited additional flood control benefits; ten cited additional emergency response benefits; and seven cited recreational benefits. (Application Summary below)

“The voters of California spoke clearly when they passed Proposition 1 in 2014. They want new water storage projects that provide public benefits and provide a measurable improvement to the Delta,” stated Armando Quintero, chair of the California Water Commission. “After our multi-year process of working with stakeholders and the public to develop and approve the regulations governing the WSIP program, we have 12 projects that have applied for funding. The Commission will now turn its focus to reviewing the applications and determining which projects will provide the best investment in public dollars for California’s future.”

The applications will be checked for eligibility and completeness before entering a full technical review. The Commission expects to hold multiple public meetings regarding WSIP funding for the projects, including determining the Public Benefit Ratio (March 2018), Final Project Score (May 2018), and Maximum Conditional Eligibility Determination and Early Funding for Completion of Environmental Documents and Permits (June 2018). Information about Commission meeting schedules and status of review may be found at www.cwc.ca.gov.

The nine-member California Water Commission is charged with advising the director of the California Department of Water Resources, approving rules and regulations, and furthering development of state policies that support integrated and sustainable water resources management. For more information regarding the California Water Commission visit www.cwc.ca.gov

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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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