NEWS WORTH NOTING: PPIC Report: Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley; SDCWA General Manager Maureen A. Stapleton retires; AWE research shows landscape transformation programs can stretch community water supplies; LAO Report: Assessing California’s Climate Policies

“All Hands on Deck” Approach Needed to Manage Growing Water Stress in the San Joaquin Valley

New report finds at least half a million acres of farmland will need to be fallowed to balance groundwater use with supply

The San Joaquin Valley, California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply, is on the brink of a major transition as it seeks to balance its groundwater accounts.

Implementing the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—which requires overdrafted groundwater basins to achieve balance between supply and demand by the 2040s—will bring great change to the valley’s agricultural sector, regional land use, and the local economy.

The pace of groundwater pumping accelerated during the 2012–16 drought. Over the past three decades, the valley’s annual groundwater deficit has averaged nearly 2 million acre-feet—or about one Don Pedro Reservoir’s worth of water a year.

Only about a quarter of this deficit can be filled with new supplies at prices farmers can afford. Ending overdraft could require taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland out of production.

These are among the key findings of a report released today by the PPIC Water Policy Center.

The new report breaks the issues into three key areas and presents priority actions for tackling them: balancing water supply and demand, addressing groundwater quality challenges, and fostering beneficial solutions to water and landuse transitions.

“The large and complex scope of the changes coming to the valley will require cooperative solutions that bring multiple benefits and get more ‘pop per drop’ from scarce water supplies,” said Ellen Hanak, director of the PPIC Water Policy Center and a coauthor of the report.

One promising solution is to increase water trading, which can significantly reduce the impacts of ending groundwater overdraft by allowing farmers to maintain the crops that generate the most revenue and jobs. If farmers can freely trade water within their basin, it will reduce the costs of this transition by nearly half. And if they can also trade more broadly across the region, it will cut their costs by nearly two-thirds.

In addition to water shortages, the valley must respond to serious water quality problems. More than 100 rural communities have persistently contaminated tap water. Valley farmers must also meet new requirements for protecting groundwater from the buildup of nitrate and salts. The most promising tool for augmenting supplies—groundwater recharge—poses some tradeoffs with water quality goals if not managed properly.

“The solutions to the valley’s water quality problems don’t fall neatly into traditional political and institutional boundaries―and with 120 new groundwater agencies, it’s gotten even more complex,” said Sarge Green, a coauthor of the report and director of the Center for Irrigation Technology at Fresno State. “Many players will need to be involved in devising long-term solutions to these complex problems.”

The lands fallowed to achieve groundwater balance could be converted to uses such as solar energy, groundwater recharge, and restored habitat. Getting the greatest benefit from idled lands will require new levels of planning and cooperation.

Governor Newsom focused on the valley’s groundwater, water quality, and poverty problems in his recent State of the State speech and included funds to address safe drinking water problems in his first budget.

The PPIC report recommends key areas where state leadership could help—including providing clarity on how much water is available for recharge, establishing a reliable funding source for safe drinking water challenges, and supporting broad planning processes, among others.

“Leadership from state and federal partners will be critical,” said Hanak. “But the valley’s future is in the hands of its residents. The stakes are high—but the costs of inaction are higher.”

The report, Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley, was supported with funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the TomKat Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Water Foundation. In addition to Hanak and Green, it was authored by Alvar Escriva-Bou, a research fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Brian Gray, a senior fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Thomas Harter, the Robert M. Hagan Endowed Chair in Water Management and Policy at UC Davis; Jelena Jezdimirovic, a research associate at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis; Josué Medellín-Azuara, associate professor at UC Merced; Peter Moyle, associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis; and Nathaniel Seavy, a research director at Point Blue Conservation Science. A public event on the report’s findings will take place at Fresno State on February 22.

Water Authority General Manager Maureen A. Stapleton Retires after 23 Years

With Stapleton at the helm, agency transformed San Diego County’s water supply

From the San Diego County Water Authority:

Maureen A. Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, informed the agency’s Board of Directors today of her decision to retire from the agency.

“The positive impact of Maureen’s leadership of the Water Authority and management of this region’s water supply cannot be overstated,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “She has also been an important leader in our civic affairs for three decades and has dedicated countless hours to the betterment of our entire region. She will be greatly missed.”

Madaffer said that Sandy Kerl, the agency’s deputy general manager, will serve as acting general manager while the Water Authority Board of Directors conducts a search for its next general manager. Kerl was appointed deputy general manager in November 2009, after a lengthy career with the City of La Mesa, where she served as city manager from 2003 to 2009.

During Stapleton’s tenure leading the region’s water wholesale agency, she led a successful, multi-decade strategy to diversify and improve the reliability of San Diego County’s water supply, which now supports a $220 billion economy and the quality of life of 3.3 million people. The Stapleton era also saw the greatest investment in large-scale regional water infrastructure in San Diego County history.

“The success of the Water Authority over the past two decades is testament to the vision of the Board of Directors, the passionate commitment and dedication of the Water Authority’s staff and management team, the partnership we forged with our 24 member agencies, and the unwavering support of the San Diego region’s civic leaders,” Stapleton said. “I am immensely proud of our shared accomplishments, and I will greatly miss my Water Authority colleagues and esprit de corps we shared carrying out the Water Authority’s mission to provide our region with a safe and reliable water supply.”

The highlight of Stapleton’s career at the Water Authority was the 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement, and its implementation over the 16 years since that historic accord was signed in October 2003.

Click here to continue reading.

The cornerstone of the QSA is the San Diego County Water Authority-Imperial Irrigation District water conservation-and-transfer agreement, under which the Water Authority will receive 200,000 acre-feet of water annually from IID to the Water Authority for up to 75 years. It is the largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer in U.S. history. The Water Authority also secured an additional 77,700 acre-feet annually for 110 years through the lining of the All- American and Coachella canals in the Imperial Valley. Since 2003, QSA transfers have provided the San Diego region with 2 million acre-feet of water, and this year they will account for approximately 40 percent of the region’s water supply. Over the life of the agreements, the Water Authority will receive up to 21.4 million acre-feet of highly reliable water.

Former Water Authority Board Chair Mark Watton, who led the search for the agency’s general manager in 1995 when Stapleton was hired, called her “the right leader, at the right time for the tremendous challenges our region faced.”

“We were at a critical juncture in the Water Authority’s history,” Watton said. “We had just emerged from the deepest water supply shortages our community experienced in the 20th Century. And, we had announced a tentative water transfer deal with the Imperial Irrigation District only a few months earlier.

“We knew getting that landmark deal done would take a smart, tenacious and dedicated leader,” Watton said. “We got that, and a whole lot more, in Maureen Stapleton.”

Mike Madigan, who chaired the Water Authority Board during the 1991-1992 supply cutbacks, put the challenges Stapleton and her staff faced into historical perspective. In 1991, the agency’s sole supplier of water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, cut the San Diego region’s supplies by 31 percent, and even adopted 50-percent cutbacks, he said.

“That was the region’s wake-up call,” Madigan said. “We had virtually all of our eggs in one basket, and the bottom of the basket fell out. The Board knew we had to diversify our water supply. And, while you can diversify your investment portfolio with a couple of hours of research and a few clicks of your mouse, diversifying the water supply for one of the largest metropolitan regions in the country would take decades, require billions of dollars of ratepayer investment, and face untold roadblocks.

“We knew it would also take extraordinary leadership, tenacity and perseverance to accomplish that mission, and we were fortunate to find all of those qualities in Maureen Stapleton, her leadership team and the staff of the Water Authority,” Madigan said.

Then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, heralded Stapleton’s leadership over eight years of protracted QSA negotiations involving numerous California water agencies, the seven Colorado River basin states, the State of California and the U.S. Department of the Interior that culminated in a signing ceremony atop Hoover Dam in 2003.

“Thanks to the patience, perseverance and hard work of their leaders, including Maureen Stapleton and her staff at the San Diego County Water Authority… San Diego has secured a reliable supply of additional water to help meet the community’s vital needs for decades to come,” Norton wrote in a 2003 commentary for The San Diego Union-Tribune. “The future of San Diego and the Colorado River Basin is made more secure by this addition to the Law of the River.”

Under Stapleton, the Water Authority invested more than $3.5 billion in new capital facilities to serve the region, including $1.5 billion in projects that comprised the agency’s Emergency & Carryover Storage Project, a collection of new and expanded dams, reservoirs, pump stations, tunnel and pipelines designed to provide between two and six months of emergency water supply – stored within the region – following a catastrophic event, such as an earthquake, that would cut off or severely curtail the delivery of imported water into San Diego County. Before the E&CSP was completed, some communities in the county would have been without water service in as few as three days following such a catastrophic event.

Among the projects planned, built and placed into operation by the Water Authority over the past two decades:

  • In 2003, Olivenhain Dam was the first major new dam built in San Diego in more than 50 years. At 318 feet, it was the tallest roller-compacted concrete dam at the time.
  • In 2008, the Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant north of San Marcos was the largest submerged membrane water treatment plant in the world when it was commissioned.
  • In 2011, the San Vicente Tunnel and Pipeline Project – a 11-mile long, 12-foot diameter tunnel with an 8-1/2-foot diameter pipeline – connected the Water Authority’s First and Second Aqueducts.
  • In 2012, the Lake Hodges Hydropower Facility, started serving the dual purposes of connecting the lake to the Water Authority’s aqueduct system and generating 40 megawatts of clean electricity.
  • In 2014, the San Vicente Dam Raise Project, the tallest dam-raise project in U.S. history,  expanded the reservoir’s capacity from 90,000 acre-feet to 247,663 acre-feet.
  • In 2015, the $1 billion Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, distribution pipeline and related facilities started commercial operations as the largest seawater desalination project in North America.
  • The ongoing, innovative Water Authority Asset Management Program, which includes the agency’s pioneering Pipeline Relining Project, a multi-year project to reline 80 miles of large-diameter prestressed concrete cylinder pipelines with new steel liners, preventing failure of the pipelines and extending their useful lifespans by 75 years or more.

The Water Authority’s work during Stapleton’s more than two decades of leadership has received countless major awards and recognitions. Among them:

  • The 2017 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award from the American Society of Civil Engineering for the Water Authority’s Emergency & Carryover Storage Project. The Opal, as it is known in the industry, is the most prestigious civil engineering award in the world. Other finalists for the award were: One World Trade Center in New York City; Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, India; Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in New Haven, Conn.; and the Union Station to Oak Cliff Streetcar Project in Dallas, Texas.
  • The 2017 Clair A. Hill Water Agency Award for Excellence in water resources management from the Association of California Water Agencies.
  • The 2016 Global Water Intelligence Desalination Plant of the Year, the 2016 San Diego Taxpayers Association’s Grand Golden Watchdog Award, and the 2012 Bond Deal of the Year Award from Bond Buyer for the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.
  • The 2013 Platinum Award for Utility Excellence from the American Water Works Association.

Effective and efficient management of the agency is frequently cited as a key factor in the Water Authority’s high, investment-grade credit ratings: AAA from Standard & Poor’s; AA+ from Fitch Ratings; and Aa2 from Moody’s.

Stapleton’s retirement caps more than 40 years in public service. Before her appointment as general manager in December 1995, Stapleton served nine years at the City of San Diego, rising to assistant city manager. Prior to San Diego, she was assistant city manager for Claremont, Calif.

Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, now President and Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, called Stapleton “instrumental in the growth and development of our region. Under Maureen’s leadership, the Water Authority has helped propel San Diego’s economy by ensuring our region has a diversified, highly reliable water supply – and the infrastructure system needed to produce and treat water, store it, and deliver it to millions of San Diegans.”

Stapleton has been a fixture in the San Diego civic community for decades. She is a member of Board of Directors the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. She also serves on the board of directors of Water for People, an international organization that promotes the development of drinking water and sanitation services in developing countries worldwide.

Stapleton has also served on: the board of directors of United Way of San Diego County, where she was chair from 2000-2001; Combined Health Agencies of San Diego County; Scripps Health Board of Directors, including service as chair; Hans and Margaret Doe Foundation Board of Trustees; and, CEO Business Roundtable. She has also been a member of San Diego Downtown Rotary 33.

Among other awards and recognitions, Stapleton was the recipient of: the 2004 Regional Unity Award from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce “for ensuring a reliable water supply for Southern California;” the 2010 Diogenes Award from Public Relations Society of America, San Diego Chapter; the 2004 Headliner of the Year Award from the San Diego Press Club “for securing San Diego’s water future;” and the 2000 Association of California Water Agencies Excellence in Water Leadership Award from the Association of California Water Agencies.

On February 13, 2019, the American Water Works Association selected Stapleton for Honorary Membership in the association “in recognition of her more than 20 years of dedicated, innovative leadership that has left a significant, indelible and positive impact on local, state, national and international water supply reliability efforts.”

Stapleton’s husband, Frank Gehrke, retired in December 2018 as the chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources.

AWE Research Shows Landscape Transformation Programs Can Stretch Community Water Supplies

Market Analysis and Consumer Survey Determine Homeowners Ready for Sustainable Landscapes

From the Alliance for Water Efficiency:

As cities face growing challenges ensuring a safe, reliable, long-term water supply, new research from the Alliance for Water Efficiency proves that urban landscapes represent a promising source of untapped water savings that can help stretch existing water supplies and increase resiliency to potential shortages.

AWE’s Landscape Transformation study, the most expansive and diverse assessment to date of outdoor water efficiency programs, revealed that single family customers achieved average savings ranging from a 7 percent reduction in water use up to 39 percent after participating in a program. The research, conducted over a two year period, included 14 community-driven programs, including incentives for efficient irrigation technologies, free distribution of mulch, turf removal and water-wise re-landscaping, and customer site audits.

An accompanying survey of more than 3,000 North Americans revealed that homeowners are ready to embrace a new landscape ideal. With the support of well-designed programs, they achieve water-efficient landscapes that support homeowner goals, community water objectives, and healthy watersheds.

“We’ve made great strides in reducing indoor use over the past several decades, but communities are far from done with water conservation and efficiency,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. “There are still significant water savings to be found by changing the way we look at our lawns. As communities consider their long-term supply options, they should look at landscape transformation programs to help their water utility avoid more costly infrastructure-based solutions.”

Click here to continue reading at the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

LAO Report:  Assessing California’s Climate Policies

The Legislative Analyst’s Office has prepared a hearing handout on California’s climate policies for the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

The handout discusses sources of greenhouse gas emissions, existing laws and policies, overall effects of climate policies, cap and trade, and recommendations.

Click here to read the handout.

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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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