NEWS WORTH NOTING: DWR to invest millions in groundwater sustainability for Disadvantaged Communities and local agencies; State Water Boards issue ninth web-based performance report; Labor and enviro groups launch coalition to protect CEQA in 2018 legislative session

DWR to Invest Millions in Groundwater Sustainability for Disadvantaged Communities and Local Agencies

From the Department of Water Resources:

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today announced $85.8 million in grants for groundwater sustainability projects that directly benefit severely disadvantaged communities, and for local agency development of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs). These funds support the goals of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), requiring local agencies to sustainably manage the state’s groundwater basins.

“Groundwater is an important water supply, particularly during times of drought when as much as 60 percent of the state’s water needs may be supplied by groundwater,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “Many basins have suffered from over-drafting for decades and it will take decades to bring them back into balance. It’s critical that communities have plans to replenish their groundwater when conditions are wet and ensure supplies stay clean.”

DWR received 78 grant applications and is recommending that all receive awards, pending public comments and review of those comments. The grants are funded by Proposition 1 passed in 2014 and awarded on a competitive basis in two funding categories: 1) Projects that serve severely disadvantaged communities; and 2) Development of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs).

Of the $85.8 million awarded:

  • $16.2 million is for severely disadvantaged communities to support groundwater sustainability planning and management.
  • $69.6 million is for local agency GSP development
  • $3.4 million is tentatively awarded to three basins. These awards will be held pending a further review of their eligibility.

The full list of grant applications that were submitted is available on the Sustainable Groundwater Planning Grant Program webpage.

Today’s announcement begins a 15-day public comment period. The public may submit comments via email to SGWP@water.ca.gov or by U.S. Postal Service to:

Financial Assistance Branch

Division of Integrated Regional Water Management
Department of Water Resources
901 P Street
P.O. Box 942836
Sacramento, CA 94236-0001

Public comments will be considered before finalizing the awards in late February.

State Water Boards Issue Ninth Web-based Performance Report

From the State Water Resources Control Board:

The State Water Resources Control Board and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards launched their ninth web-based “Annual Performance Report” this week — a report intended to assess the Water Boards’ efforts during the 2016-17 fiscal year to protect and manage California’s water resources.

“While constantly being improved, this report is a valuable tool that allows us to track our progress in protecting the waters of the state,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Board. “This year’s report also makes data more accessible to the general public, which in turn gives residents a better understanding of what the Water Boards are doing to protect one of California’s most precious resources.”

The 12-month period covered by the report illustrates the variability in California’s annual precipitation, with one of the wettest winters on record ending the state’s historic five-year drought. Nonetheless, the state-declared drought emergency remained in selected central California communities. As the report documents, the Water Boards stepped up efforts during this period to provide funding and regulatory oversight to help meet their water needs.

This “report card” also gives a snapshot of the state’s water quality, using a variety of metrics and documents to show what the Water Boards are doing to protect it. In 2016-17, the Water Boards collectively oversaw more than 50,000 dischargers, took approximately 600 individual permit actions, inspected more than 7,600 facilities, completed more than 2,000 penalty and compliance actions, and adopted plans to address nearly 150 listings for polluted waterways.

While there is still much work to be done, the Water Boards’ actions are leading to improvements in watersheds around the state. Forty-one waterbodies that were listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as impaired under Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act were removed from that list in 2016-17. The number of waterbodies that have not yet been addressed by a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) project continues to decrease. TMDL projects are used to restore water quality for waterbodies that are listed as impaired.

Additionally, five watershed units, of the State’s 167 watersheds of focus, had documented improvements in water quality under the Non-Point Source program, which aims to address water pollution from diffuse, unregulated sources rather than a single, regulated source. In the Water Boards’ Clean-up Program, 602 clean-up sites were closed in 2016-17, bringing the total to almost 20,000 sites cleaned up and closed.

The Annual Performance Report not only allows the State and Regional Water Boards to track and monitor the work being done to address water quality concerns, it also allows the Water Boards to track the impact of this work on the water resources. Managers of Water Board programs are able to use the report to more effectively assign limited resources.

To learn more, visit the Water Boards’ Performance Report at: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/about_us/performance_report_1617/

Or see an overview of the report at: https://arcg.is/z5Km1

Labor and environmental groups launch coalition to protect California Environmental Quality Act in 2018 legislative session

Deregulation advocates heighten attacks on landmark environmental law in push for deregulation

Several of California’s most prominent labor, conservation, and environmental justice groups today announced they are reactivating the CEQA Works coalition in an effort to protect the California Environmental Quality Act against attempts to weaken the law in California’s 2018 legislative session. Signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan almost 50 years ago, CEQA is the bedrock of the state’s environmental protection laws.

While some development forces continue to roll out tired claims that CEQA is an impediment to housing development, evidence to support that claim is lacking. Numerous reports in recent years have demonstrated that CEQA promotes transparency and that updates to the law have succeeded in streamlining the environmental review process for priority projects related to affordable housing, mass transit and renewable energy, among others. CEQA has been updated dozens of times in response to concerns over process as well as to address the changing environment, like encouraging infill development and supporting the state’s commitment to reducing climate change-inducing emissions.

The California State Senate Environmental Quality Committee recently released the results of a survey of all state-led projects from 2011 to 2016. Of more than 11,000 projects, fewer than 1% were required to prepare a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). A 2012 review by the California Department of Justice, and private studies by the Rose Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council all corroborated the finding that fewer than 1% of projects subject to CEQA review face litigation.

“Californians rely on CEQA to reduce the harm from projects that pollute air and water, or otherwise threaten public health,” said Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California. “This law is an extremely important tool for community members. Before CEQA, we saw neighborhoods divided by freeways and houses demolished for shopping centers without a clear opportunity for the public to respond and influence those projects to mitigate impacts.”

CEQA has a long track record of reducing environmental and public health impacts from development. It requires project proponents to identify potential environmental impacts and to take steps to mitigate or eliminate such impacts to the extent feasible.

“In the era of Trump, it’s essential that we keep our environmental laws strong in California,” added Howard Penn, Director of the Planning and Conservation League. “California’s long-term prosperity depends on making rational development decisions that reduce, rather than contribute to, risks like wildfire and over-allocation of limited water supplies. The environmental review process provides essential information to policy-makers making land use decisions.”

Groups leading the CEQA Works charge include State Building and Construction Trades Council, California Labor Federation, California League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Planning and Conservation League (PCL) and Sierra Club California. There are more than 200 California organizations in the CEQA Works coalition.

“There’s no doubt that California is facing an affordable housing crisis, but study after study shows that CEQA is not to blame,” noted Cesar Diaz, Legislative Director for the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “We need the legislature to focus on solutions that will actually address the problems at hand instead of simply making it easier for developers to make big money at the public’s expense.”

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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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