CA WATER COMMISSION: Governor Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio Initiative Listening Session

On April 29, 2019, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-10-19 that directed the secretaries of the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to prepare a water resilience portfolio that would meet the needs of California’s communities for the economy, and the environment through the 21st century.  The executive order calls for revisiting the priorities of the 2016 California Water Action Plan, updating projected climate change impacts to the state’s water systems, identifying key priorities for the administration’s water portfolio moving forward, and identifying how to improve integration across state agencies to implement these priorities.

The Executive Order also calls for extensive outreach to inform this process, including public listening sessions at boards and commissions across the state.  The California Water Commission held the first of such listening sessions at its June meeting with a panel of water management experts offering their perspectives on what a climate-resilient water portfolio might look like, beginning the process of providing public input into the Governor’s strategy for building a climate-resilient water system.  They also decided to hold a second listening session in August to discuss the topic in greater detail.

(More listening sessions have been scheduled.  The Central Valley Flood Protection Board will hold a listening session as part of their regular board meeting on Friday, and the Department of Food and Agriculture is holding a listening session on Tuesday in San Luis Obispo at 1pm.)

Nancy Vogel was appointed to be the Director of the Governor’s Water Portfolio Program at the California Natural Resources Agency where her task is to coordinate the efforts of the Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Food and Agriculture as they work together to craft recommendations that would move California in the direction of long-term water resiliency.

You are the first state agency to give the public an opportunity to offer their thoughts on how California can act to help regions prepare for new risks and disruptions and recover from stresses and shocks, ideally while also fostering healthy ecosystems and communities and economies,” Ms. Vogel said as she opened the panel discussion.  “By 2050, we could have another 10 million Californians and our average temperatures could be 4 degrees warmer, and of course there are profound implications to that.  So I appreciate the expertise and experience that you’ve pulled together here today.”

Ms. Vogel noted that anyone who has ideas and suggestions on the water resilience portfolio can email their comments to; more information is available on the web

CAITRIN CHAPPELLE: Climate Change and the Water Resilience Portfolio

Caitrin Chappelle is the Associate Director at the PPIC Water Policy Center.  She began  with a presentation on the anticipated impacts of climate change to the state’s water systems and how the water resilience portfolios can anticipate these impacts with specific actions such as planning, upgrading the water grid, modernizing water allocation rules and finding sustainable funding.

In many ways, managing water is at the forefront of climate change adaptation in California, so recognizing this, the PPIC researched how the state’s water system can be managed for a changing climate and pulled together their recommendations in the September 2018 report, Managing Drought in a Changing Climate.  The report was prepared by a team of experts in climate science and California’s water system to review the weak points and recommend actions to build climate resilience, so Ms. Chappelle noted she would be presenting information from that report for this presentation.

We are already in many ways feeling the effects of a changing climate and California’s latest drought was an example of that and a window into the future,” she said.  “A lot of the recommendations we made in this report are lessons that we learned from this latest drought, which had the driest four year stretch in recorded history, and at the height of the drought, the two hottest years of record.  Then of course the drought broke in 2017 with record rains.


They began by identifying the five distinct climate pressures that are impacting California’s water system that are expected to grow in strength in the future: warming temperatures, shrinking snowpack, shorter wet seasons, more volatile precipitation, and rising seas.  She briefly discussed each of these in turn:

  • Warming temperatures: The high temperatures of the recent drought will become more common.  There will be an increase in the number of extreme temperature days, and these higher temperatures will directly both reduce runoff and increase evaporation, which will continue to expand the trade offs between water use and water quality for both human use and the environment and create further conflict.

  • Shrinking snowpack: California’s snowpack is shrinking and the future snowpack will be significantly decreased with more snow droughts with periods of little to no snowpack.  The timing of snowmelt will likely occur earlier in the spring, and it will also impact the amount of water available for recharge, both up in the mountains and down in the valley.  There will be impacts to the state’s water supply, hydropower, and flood control systems.

  • Shorter wet seasons: There will be a change in our seasonalities; the average annual precipitation in California is unlikely to change, but by mid-century, shorter and more intense winters with less precipitation in the late fall and early spring are expected, and these changes in seasonality can have broad impacts for a system that has been built on historical precipitation patterns.  For example, impacts to both irrigation demands and also ecosystem waters will change as the seasons change and there will be changes on how and when we can capture water for recharge.

  • More volatile precipitation: Precipitation patterns are also becoming more volatile.  There will be an increase in whiplash events, so more extreme dry and extreme wet years in succession, as well as more pronounced extreme wet events in the form of atmospheric rivers.  This means that the state will need to store more water for drought while also capturing higher flows to reduce flood risk and sometimes maybe even in the same year or one year after another, which will put strain and demand on our storage system, as well as provide uncertainty for other things like groundwater recharge and flood risk.

  • Sea level rise:  Anticipated sea level rise will have some indirect consequences for water management; besides the impacts of sea level rise to coastal communities, there will also be salt water intrusion into coastal aquifers and estuaries, as well as unique challenges in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to water quality and levee stability.

That was a lot of doom and gloom, but we thought it was important to start there to set the stage of how reducing vulnerability to these climate pressures can help us build a more resilient water future in California but also how it’s going to take concerted action and efforts at the state, local, and even federal level,” Ms. Chappelle said.


The report has four recommendations for reforming the water system: plan ahead, upgrade the water grid, update water allocation rules, and find the money.  Ms. Chappelle noted she would be focusing mainly on the second and third recommendations in her comments.

Reform 1: Plan ahead

To briefly summarize the first recommendation, Ms. Chappelle said that in the latest drought, those agencies who had planned for drought in advance were much better positioned to respond, so any water resilience strategy presented by the state should promote improved and enhanced planning at the local and regional levels for urban, agriculture, rural communities, and ecosystems.  She noted that for urban agencies, planning is already a big part of what they do, but for other sectors like the environment, longer term planning for climate change needs to be more aggressively adopted.

Reform 2: Upgrade the water grid

The second recommendation is to upgrade the water grid, which the PPIC defines as the above and below ground storage and conveyance network that connects and supplies water for all uses throughout California.  The figure on the left side of the slide is the main above ground storage and conveyance and the figure on the right side of the slide is the main groundwater basins, and those two combined create California’s water grid, she said.

California’s water grid provides many services but climate pressures will make it harder to simultaneously achieve all the things that it does which is store water for droughts, manage flood risks, protect freshwater ecosystems, and of course provide water supplies for all Californians,” Ms. Chappelle said, acknowledging that the state’s water infrastructure is aging and in need of upgrades, and many groundwater basins are depleted.

Even so, while currently not prepared to handle the mounting pressures of a changing climate, California’s water infrastructure is our most valuable asset,” she continued.  “It is already robust, it is already vast, and there’s already a lot of smart people within this system, so we need to update it to more robust and more flexible and more integrated to adapt to these climate pressures.  This will require investments not only to modernize the actual infrastructure but to modernize the way the system is managed.”

Ms. Chappelle then gave three specific recommendations for the water resilience portfolio:

Enhance groundwater storage:  “Groundwater is our most vital drought reserve and as droughts become more extreme in the future, it will become even more important.  Many of California’s basins have considerable potential to store more water, but the lack of active management up until now including tracking groundwater use and having good accounting systems has been an obstacle to doing this more.  The first plans under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act are due out early next year, and we expect many to focus on new recharge efforts, getting more water into the ground, so a resilient water portfolio should include investments and incentives to increase groundwater recharge through both dedicated recharge ponds, but new methods as well, such as flooding cropland during winter months.”

Repair and upgrade existing infrastructure:  “The second priority should be to repair and upgrade existing dams, canals, and aqueducts.  Addressing aging infrastructure weaknesses and gaps is essential for both flood protection and water supply, and expanding our conveyance capacity will be key to getting water from winter and spring storms to where it’s needed for groundwater storage.  Improved conveyance could also facilitate improved water trading, which is an important way to improve the flexibility of our system and reduce the cost of water scarcity during droughts.  The current system we have is not currently setup to allow for the level of water trading that we think is needed to adapt.”

Modernize and integrate operations:  “We need to think about the way we actually operate the system, not just physically, but the operations themselves.  We’ll be able to store more water in the long run if we manage our surface and groundwater pieces of this grid as a system together to increase their combined potential.  For instance, moving more water out of surface reservoirs and into aquifers in the fall to free up room for winter and spring storms, and updating our operations to use more modern and advanced weather forecasting technology.  This is happening in some ways around the state but if there are ways to incentivize doing that more broadly, this will help managers know when they can release water to protect downstream users, but also when they should transfer it to groundwater basins or keep it in storage for later use.”

Any state policies that promote these upgrades, either through investments or changes in policies, will be a crucial part of a resilient water portfolio,” said Ms. Chappelle.

Reform 3: Update water allocation rules

The recommendation to update water allocation rules goes hand in hand with modernizing and upgrading the water grid as climate pressures heighten the trade-offs in water allocation between water users and ecosystems, she said, noting that the current system is not as flexible as it needs to be to accommodate markets and trading, nor is it as clear as it needs to be about ensuring baseline protections for vulnerable communities and ecosystems.  Additionally, the shorter, more intense wet seasons projected for the future means water must be captured and recharged into aquifers when its available and the current water allocation system is not set up to do that efficiently.

Any portfolio approach to build resilience in our water system should include a comprehensive update of these water allocation rules,” she continued.  “The goals should be to find both equitable and efficient ways to allocate supplies among competing demands during dry times while promoting efforts to capture and store more water during wet times.

Ms. Chappelle then gave her specific recommendations for the resilience portfolio:

Promote groundwater storage:Currently the rules that govern diversion of water from rivers for groundwater storage are unclear.  There’s a need to update the rules governing both capture and recharge, and permitting of groundwater recharge projects needs to be more expeditious to take advantage of these high winter flows when they are happening.  We also need to streamline our trading and banking in California.  There are limits in both the conveyance infrastructure but they are compounded by difficulties in securing permits for trades and groundwater banking partnerships where people are trying to work together, so some level of simplified review and preapproved transfers might be needed to become more resilient as the climate changes.”

Give the environment a water budget: “Current practices for environmental water usually through regulation don’t provide enough flexibility to manage flows to support freshwater ecosystems, so granting ecosystem water budgets that can be flexibly managed the way other water rights are, such as stored and traded, would allow water managers to prepare for and manage for drought and ecosystems and watersheds the way water managers are preparing for drought on cities and farms.  We also think it would also help reduce conflict over scarce supplies.”

Improve water rights administration:  “With these climate pressures, giving the State Water Board some more comprehensive jurisdiction over water rights including permitting authority and groundwater pumping to help manage the system as one instead of as separate.”

Reform 4: Find the money

All of these require funding, Ms. Chappelle acknowledged.  Currently water users pay for most of the water supply infrastructure including investments in the water grid, and there’s no reason to expect that to change, she noted, but there are ‘fiscal orphans’ that are increasingly vulnerable with climate pressures.  Bonds can help, but they can’t do it all, and they have to pass in order to be helpful.  Flood and stormwater management have the biggest funding gaps, per the PPIC analysis, and both of those were barely addressed in the recent bonds.

So overall we will need more state funding but we also need creative ways to raise funds at the local and regional level,” she said.


There are many reasons for optimism, Ms. Chappelle pointed out in closing.  A lot of work has already been done at the local and state level which is a good place to start.  The urban sector has been adapting and investing over time.  Agriculture has been innovating and improving efficiency and working towards groundwater sustainability, and progress is underway on safe drinking water supplies.

There’s still a long ways to go but the conversation is at the forefront of what many of us are working on, so that’s good news,” she said.  “There’s one place we think should be considered as needing a fundamental shift and change in course under a changing climate, and that’s the way we manage our environment and our ecosystems.  Efforts to date haven’t stopped species decline and climate pressures are increasing this risk, so more flexible ecosystem-based management is needed, as well as significant investments.  We think this is a place where the water resilience can really address a change in course with what’s been happening so far.

Getting ready for the future role will require strong leadership so we at the PPIC are happy to be part of this conversation about the new administration’s efforts to do just that and build a more resilient water future,” Ms. Chappelle concluded.

JOHN CAIN:  Multi-benefit flood projects and resiliency

John Cain is the conservation director for River Partners.  In his presentation, he covered three topics: the 2017 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan Update, the five water supply benefits of multi-benefit flood management, and the urgent need to reengineer the flood management system in the San Joaquin Valley to prepare for a changing climate.


The Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is updated every 5 years.  Mr. Cain said in his view, the three important elements of the flood plan is that it’s a flood risk management plan, not a flood control plan; it’s an outcome driven plan and not simply a list of actions; and that it emphasizes multi-benefit flood management projects.  He then discussed each of this points in turn.

What does it mean to be a risk management plan as opposed to a flood control plan?  In the past, the state has attempted to control floods, even though we knew from the very beginning that it was folly to think that levees could control the floods.  “Yes, we can control the most probable kinds of floods, the smallest kinds of floods, but levees turn out to be very rigid infrastructure because when they do fail, they fail catastrophically,” he said, noting that after the Oroville Dam spillway incident, there’s a recognition of a similar potential for catastrophic failure of dams.  “These pieces of gray infrastructure are rigid; they are not resilient.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be part of our portfolio, but they are not resiliency elements.”

The updated flood plan has several resiliency elements, Mr. Cain said.  First, the plan has a portfolio of risk management strategies, starting with land use and making sure that we’re not building in harm’s way.  Secondly, it calls for giving rivers more room by expanding the system of flood bypasses and a few strategic levee setbacks.  Third, there are non-structural measures in the flood plan that are resiliency features, such as building codes that make any structures that do get inundated more resilient against flooding or safer places to be; another key element of resiliency is making sure that people who live in harm’s way have flood insurance which helps communities as a whole bounce back from flooding.  Emergency response and having alternative plans is another risk management strategy.

Secondly the plan is an outcome driven plan.  The plan identifies four societal goals: public health and safety, economic stability, ecosystem function, and ‘enriching experiences’ (a quality of life goal).  “The idea is that you have metrics for each one of these and as people come forward with projects, you evaluate the worthiness of the project based on how well it hits the metrics for the four societal goals,” Mr. Cain said.  “This is a resiliency feature, because instead of giving you a list of actions that we think are great today, it forces people to continue to come forward and show what are the best actions to meet our societal goals as the world is changing.  Actions that may have seemed great ten years ago are not necessarily the projects we need going forward.”

Lastly, the plan focuses on multi-benefit flood management projects.  “This is a bit of hedging,” he said.  “Instead of investing large amounts of money in single purpose projects like levees, we invest a little bit more money and we get multi-benefit projects that have more of a variety of benefits …  giving rivers more room is the best way to keep communities safe from flooding, and when we give rivers more room, we create the opportunities for achieving other benefits like parks, open space, recreation, clean water, groundwater recharge, and restoration of fish and wildlife habitat.”


Mr. Cain then discussed the water supply benefits of multi-benefit flood management projects.

Potential to reduce the conflict between water supply and endangered species: There is a lot of discussion particularly with the voluntary agreements of the potential for non-flow actions to obviate the need for some flow actions.  While that might be an opportunity, one cannot do many non-flow actions in the Central Valley without touching the flood system; he pointed out that there are a whole series of permits and challenges to changing the flood system, so if you want to see more non-flow actions to improve habitat for species, you have to have a much more flexible and reformed flood management system.

But there is very significant potential to reduce conflicts by restoring floodplain habitat,” he said.  “Floodplains are very important habitat for rearing juvenile salmon, but it’s very difficult to create more floodplain in the system without moving levees around or expanding floodways, and that’s expensive.”

Reduce water demand:  Most of the land that is needed in order to give rivers more room are riparian lands which generally have riparian rights and sometimes even various senior water rights as well.

I’m not advocating for land retirement here, but I’m simply saying, there is the opportunity to retire agricultural production on these riparian lands and then use the saved water for other purposes.  The River Partners, the organization I work for now, has a project at the confluence of the Tuolumne and the San Joaquin and we did a study about how much water was used on the site prior to acquisition and then how much water will be used on the site after restoration and what we find is we can restore the land back to a natural state with riparian vegetation and healthy habitat populations that uses significantly less water.”

So where will that water go?  We are actually very interesting in seeing if we can dedicate that water to instream flow purposes.  But that’s challenging to do because it’s a riparian water right, and I think it ties into the previous comments about changing how our water rights systems works and there might be an opportunity there.”

Improving water quality:  Floodplain lands are saturated lands, and when water runs off the landscape, it runs downhill and ends up pooling as there’s a levee between the historic wetlands and the river; farmers then have to pump the water off of the land.  Also, there tends to be salinization on those lands, so farmers have to pre-irrigate, and that water is pumped off and discharged to river, oftentimes in the spring, adding warm water of not exactly pristine water quality right into the river when juvenile salmon are migrating and need it the most.

If we were to restore those lands with wetland habitats, we would get the benefit of not discharging that bad water in and actually treating water that’s flowing towards the river,” Mr. Cain noted.

Water retention and groundwater recharge:  In some places, there can be significant groundwater recharge benefits where water can be recharged into the depleted zones of the aquifer.  In other places, it may be just a recharge that happens for a few weeks where during the winter, you recharge the shallow aquifer and during the spring when the juvenile salmon are moving downstream, that cool water is emanating out of that groundwater and into the river, helping them to make their journey.

Improve reservoir flexibility and water supply yields from reservoirs:  If we can expand the floodways downstream of the reservoirs, reservoir operators can release more water during a flood or a storm which allows them to hold more water in the reservoir at other times.  Currently, there are a lot of assets that are at risk and so reservoir operators are very reluctant to increase releases, so they have to hold the water in the reservoir.  To make it all work, you have to hold a lot of the space in the reservoir empty for flood reservation.  Mr. Cain noted that he used to say there was a lot of potential for increasing water supply yield, but after Oroville, he said he thinks we’d be lucky to just maintain water supply yield because there is going to be a need to adjust these reservoir flood reservation curves.

One way to minimize the adjustments would be to make larger floodways so we can safely release a lot more water from reservoirs,” he said.


Lastly, Mr. Cain turned to the subject of improving flood protection for the San Joaquin Valley.  “What the flood plan tells us is we can expect peak floods to double by 2060,” he said.  “The San Joaquin system, below Friant Dam, normally flows at 12,000 cfs.  It had around 70,000 cfs in the 1997 event and we’re talking about doubling that.  The San Joaquin flood management system is not designed to be able to convey all of those floodwaters.  It wasn’t designed to convey the 100-year flood.  The levees are not well-engineered, but simply reinforcing them in place won’t work because the regulatory floodway just isn’t big enough to convey those floods.”

Setting back the levees is a nice idea but it’s incredibly expensive and not economically justifiable because for the most part, there are not a lot of structures or residents in the floodway, except near Stockton.  “We think it’s time to work with neighboring land owners to think about places where landowners are willing to have levees removed and have their land subject to some kind of inundation,” he said.

Mr. Cain noted that he has been working on the Paradise Cut project at the lower end of the San Joaquin River for ten years; they are working with landowners to remove a levee and expand the floodway.  Seasonal agricultural lands would get inundated only infrequently, but that would expand the flood conveyance capacity of the system and would divert floodwaters away from the Stockton metropolitan area to an undeveloped area.

There’s a lot of issues that need to be worked out, but this is like building a new Yolo Bypass but not as big on the San Joaquin River to protect Stockton,” he said.  “Ideally what we would be aiming for over the long term is to create a continuous natural lands corridor from the terminal reservoirs and from the Sierra all the way to the Delta.  This would have all kinds of benefits: water supply benefits, reservoir flexibility, sequestering carbon in the form of riparian forests which grow very rapidly, and creating pollinator habitat, something that’s sorely lacking in the San Joaquin, so there are all kinds of benefits from having these corridors, not the least of which would be creating improving recreational opportunities for the people that live in the valley.”

BOB WILKINSON: Framing considerations for a water resilience portfolio

Bob Wilkinson is an emeritus professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.  In his presentation, he gave his thoughts on framing considerations for developing resilience strategies, multi-benefit analysis and approaches, and portfolio development in the context of climate change.

Bob Wilkinson began by noting that the three agencies leading the effort that the Governor has directed are headed by people who are uniquely well qualified to take this on.  He also pointed out that a lot of good work has occurred at least since the 80s with the California Energy Commission, the Department of Water Resources, and other entities so they have been working on these things well before it was in the public discourse that has the state ahead of the curve.

Mr. Wilkinson’s own experience with climate change began with the first US Climate Assessment 25 years ago; he coordinated for California and helped on the national assessment.  “I’ll say that a lot of what we came up with is fairly consistent with where we are now, although we’ve learned a lot more since and state entities have taken a lead in both research and interpretation of what we know in terms of impacts, so we have a lot to build on.”


The definition of resilience is the ability of a system to bounce back.  Mr. Wilkinson said there were three important aspects to the concept of system resilience:

Sensitivity: the degree to which a system will respond to a change in conditions.

Adaptability: refers to the degree to which adjustments are possible in practices, processes, or structures of systems to projected or actual changes.  Adaptation can be spontaneous or planned, or can be carried out in response to or in anticipation of changes in conditions.  Mr. Wilkinson noted that where we have been able to plan, we’ve gotten better results.

Vulnerability: defines the extent to which change may damage or harm a system which depends not only on a system’s sensitivity but also on its ability to adapt to new conditions.

Notice in all three of these, we’re talking about systems,” he said.  “Not just a specific facility or piece of the infrastructure, but a system response broadly, and I think that’s important as a framing consideration as we go forward.  We’re also going to need to build on good science and good data.”


Mr. Wilkinson presented a slide summarizing the potential impacts of climate change, noting that sea level rise is not listed, but will have a significant impact in California, both aquifers and areas including the Delta.  There will be an acceleration of the hydrologic cycle, as more energy in the system is going to move more water around through it.  There will be increased ratios of rain to snow, but that doesn’t mean the snowpack will be low every year, the 2018-2019 water year being a good example of that.  There will increased evaporation and transpiration through plants, both natural ecosystems and agricultural ecosystems; increased frequency and intensity of both droughts and floods; and an increase in demand for water – not just economic demand, but demand in nature as natural systems will be pulling more out of these systems to survive.

Roger Revelle and Paul Waggoner wrote back in the 1990 report, Climate Change and U.S. Water Resources, ‘Governments at all levels should reevaluate legal, technical, and economic procedures for managing water resources in the light of climate changes that are highly likely.’

They were not arguing for bigger seawalls and higher levees and the physical response, which many people were,” said Mr. Wilkinson.  “They said, ‘we have to step back and look at this,’ and this was coming from a couple of senior scientists.  I think it’s wisdom worth thinking about, and I think this Executive Order should be framed as resilience, not just in physical infrastructure but in social infrastructure, in policies and so forth.”

John Holdren, White House Science Advisory for 8 years under the Obama Administration, said in January of 2008, said that there are three ways to respond to climate change:

  1. Mitigation, meaning measures to reduce the pace and magnitude of the changes in global climate being caused by human activities.
  2. Adaptation, meaning measures to reduce the adverse impacts on human well-being resulting from the changes in climate that do occur.
  3. Suffering the adverse impacts that are not avoided by either mitigation or adaptation.

We can either do more mitigation, which we’ll need to do, or we’ll adapt, and if we don’t do enough mitigation, we’ll have to do more adaptation,” Mr. Wilkinson said.  “As John pointed out, we’re going to do some suffering, and the less of the first two we do, the more of the third we’re going to do, and clearly we want to avoid that.”

It is important in terms of resiliency strategies to think about ways we can proceed that are both a mitigation strategy that is reducing the emissions and building resilience through adaptive capacity in systems, he said.  “In California, we have already adopted in the scoping plan for implementing the Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32, and water conservation, water recycling, and urban runoff and stormwater capture.  Those are already measures that are approved in the plans.  As part of this resilience strategy, we need to think carefully about how we can do more.  It’s more cost effective in those areas to take some of the pressure off and do it in ways that reduce the energy use which in turn reduces emissions, and builds local resilience in different parts of the state.”


Mr. Wilkinson presented a slide showing water use trends, noting that water use has peaked in California.  Ag water use peaked in about 1980; urban water use peaked and overall water use peaked in the more recent years and has since been holding fairly steady, even with a growing population.  The economic value has grown to about 4 or 5 times the economic value per unit of water in California then in the 1960s, and that’s pretty much across all sectors, he said.

In agriculture, the more crop for drop and more value of the productivity and industry and so forth is a success story and one that we can build on,” he said.

He presented a chart (lower, left) showing water use in the United States, noting it has followed a similar pattern.   “There’s been a decoupling and you can see that sharp dropoff in the last couple of 5 year increments,” he said.  “I’m expecting the next one for 2020 is going to continue that fairly dramatic downward trend.”

Mr. Wilkinson then presented a graph (upper, right) showing water withdrawals by end use for the United States, noting that thermal power plants shown as the yellow bars are the biggest use of water in terms of withdrawals. (Note the term withdrawals; thermal power plants use water for cooling generally by withdrawing water from the source, running it through the cooling system, and returning it back to the source albeit somewhat warmer, but very little is used consumptively.)  The green bars represent irrigation.

Again a sharp drop-off,” Mr. Wilkinson pointed out.  “We have a big shift occurring, and part of this resilience strategy really needs to consider that photovoltaics and wind, for example, don’t use any water, so when we’re in a drought or a heat wave, we have decoupled the water requirements for the energy system when we move to some of those energy sources that’s different than thermal power plants which require a great deal of water.

He then presented a graph showing water supply sources, acknowledging that it is a decade old, but the curves have held steady.  “The biggest new water supply option we’ve got going forward is urban water use efficiency,” he said.  “We have a lot of room to improve water use efficiency in my view, still a fair amount inside and certainly plenty outside with landscape, delivery systems and the rest.  If anything, I think those bars are a little conservative, but that’s fine, it’s a good one.”

The next most promising water supply option is conjunctive use and groundwater, which is coupled to doing more to get that rainwater recharging aquifers in both urban and agricultural systems.  After that, recycled water, which he noted is being implemented in small and large agencies throughout the state.

Those are our big new water sources, regardless of what we do with the rest of the sources on that graph with cloud seeding and all the rest, so it’s important to realize we’ve got short term opportunities that are quite significant that are also part of the resilience strategy for water,” he said.

Mr. Wilkinson said there are three things are driving this:  technology, economics or the cost effectiveness of the different technologies, and policies that frame these to encourage or discourage use of the different approaches.

One of the key trends is as the number of small-scale decentralized options available to water agencies and water managers increases, we’re experiencing dis-economies of some of the large systems which are expensive to maintain and keep going, he pointed out.

It doesn’t mean we should abandon them, but we should look very carefully at the range of options and costs for all of the options on the menu before we make decisions moving forward,” he said.  “Local supplies are increasingly viewed as the most cost effective and reliable marginal sources.  I’ve looked at virtually every water agency in urban Southern California and they’re all going to an increased efficiency strategy, recycling strategy, and stormwater strategy.  A few are going to ocean desal; it’s expensive but they feel it’s appropriate given their circumstances and reliability needs, but this is very important to look at where the money is being invested.”

These projects are being paid for with mostly local funding, not federal or state funds, he said, presenting a slide showing expenditures by local, state, and federal entities for water infrastructure funding.  He noted that the federal funds are at the bottom, so it isn’t ‘helpful’ to think that the federal government’s going to provide significant funding.  The state has passed some bond measures, but it still is just a fraction of the amount spent.

It’s local investments that are driving this,” he said.  “That means that all of these elected folks sitting on boards have had to defend rate increases, and part of that is what you get for your investment, and if you can get climate investment and energy investment and resilience investments and water, water supply, water quality – that’s a better story to tell when we say we’re going to ask you to increase your rate, then if you’re not able to do that.”

There is still a lot of room of urban water efficiency, especially with the improved efficiency of toilets, and the costs for photovoltaic and wind energy are decreasing, as well as battery costs, he noted.

Mr. Wilkinson noted that he lives in Santa Barbara, near where the Thomas Fire occurred.  The power went out during the fire, and again during a significant precipitation event that caused the mudslide in Montecito a few weeks after.  “A few months prior, I put up solar and a battery at my house, and in each of these events, the power went out, the neighbors came over and got help because my house was up and running,” he said.  “There’s a lot of resilience in looking at battery-solar systems for energy, and if PG&E is going to need to keep cutting power in vulnerable areas, and Edison is going to need to do the same thing, incentivizing this kind of resilience strategy is going to be a fire-risk strategy, it’s going to be a climate strategy, it’s also a no-emissions strategy and it doesn’t take water.  So you have a string of benefits to be achieved here.”


The water system uses a lot of energy,” said Mr. Wilkinson. “It doesn’t mean it’s wasting it but it uses a lot so where we can improve efficiency, we can save energy and cut emissions simultaneously as we go with these integrated approaches.”

The chart shows where energy is used in the water use cycle; he noted that in every step where there are energy inputs, there are technology innovation opportunities as well as resilience strategy opportunities.  “The point of this is that especially with land use, improving efficiency, and on site recycling, it can make a huge difference in the overall energy profile and emission profile and the resilience of the water system.”

Mr. Wilkinson then presented a graph showing the energy intensity for water supply sources in Southern California.  The bars in yellow on the far right are for ocean desalination and the red bars are for imported water; both of those are fairly energy intensive sources, he noted.  Using that methodology, this is the energy intensity of real places in California.  Groundwater is the green bars and purple is recycled water, and even with reverse osmosis treatment, they are less energy intensive than the alternatives.

The point here is that the resilience strategy that looks at those three big bars on the future water supplies and looks at the energy intensity really are matching up nicely, that means more attention in those areas can yield some good returns,” he said.  “Of course, efficiency is the best of all, because you’re not using any.”

Over 20 years ago, a group called the California Dialog released a statement that read, in part:  ‘Protection, enhancement, and restoration of California’s watersheds, riparian stream zones and wetlands will reduce the need for costly new water treatment plants, provide high quality drinking water at reduced cost, reduce the cost of flood damage and improve water quality for aquatic ecosystems and human recreation.’  Signatories to the statement included state agencies, the EPA, the EDF, Sierra Club, NRDC, TNC, but also Chevron, BP, Bank of America, Edison, PG&E, Disney, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, General Motors, and a number of others, he said.

I mention this because I think this resilience Executive Order holds an opportunity to reach out and look for perhaps unlikely partners and allies,” he said.  “I think this is a sweet spot for a lot of these measures where we can get broad agreement, and it’s going to take that, because it will take funding and it will take political support to move forward.”

Finally, portfolios include diverse elements but they are not diversity, and that’s important.  “I’ve seen folks with very diverse portfolios tank badly, so a group of bad picks is not necessarily what you’re looking for, so we really have to think carefully about what goes into a portfolio and why,” he said.  “We should begin with the question, is the challenge getting more water or is it finding ways to meet demands for water services in cost effective equitable ways while avoiding environmental impacts, and as that statement implied, that is restoring natural systems as watersheds, floodplains, and the rest.  I think if we start with a question like this, we’ll think about how we structure a portfolio differently.”

With multi-benefit approaches, how can we make private sector and public sector investments that get more results and more benefits, than we otherwise would get if we were looking at them individually, and how can we integrate this?  He said there were three steps: identifying the costs and benefits, noting that some sources of water will require more pumping and more treatment than the rest while others may actually reduce the water that needs to be pumped and treated, so those needs to be compared.  The benefits and costs need to be quantified where possible but we shouldn’t eliminate things that we can’t quantify so easily such as ecosystem benefits.  Lastly, the benefits need to be valued, acknowledging that some things are easier to value and others quite tougher, but we should stick with this.

Mr. Wilkinson closed by noting that a report was recently released, Moving Toward a Multi-Benefit Approach to Water Management, that is part of a three-phase project he is working on with the Pacific Institute to develop a methodology to identify, quantify, and value multiple benefits.  This is the first phase of a three phase project.  “I think this may be useful and helpful to this resilience approach as we go forward,” he concluded.


Commissioner Joe Byrne began the discussion period by commenting that the presentation on the floodways and corridors was interesting.  “Obviously it’s complicated with all the parties involved and what would need to happen … I know the Yolo Bypass is an example of something that’s been really positive so I’d be interested in learning more about that as we go forward.”

John Cain said there is an urgent need to reengineer as it can take decades to implement these types of projects.

Chair Armando Quintero noted that in Marin County, they created a partnership between local agencies and a non-profit that allows them to share resources, people, equipment, finances, and most importantly science, and they do landscape-scale planning.  “I imagine a project from the crest of the Sierra Nevada down to the groundwater basin, a set like a necklace of agreements where literally each participant is looking both upstream and downstream and understanding their impacts and their demands, and understanding the impacts of their decisions,” he said.  “When I look at all these pieces, I think there’s going to be a framework we’re going to have start operating with that works.”

John Cain pointed out there is a relatively new state law, AB 2087, that allows for the creation of regional conservation investment strategies.  “This could be very powerful in getting flood management agencies and multiple reclamation districts, to work together to develop and implement a conservation plan and the benefit for them is it can bring the mitigation and regulatory costs of the projects they need to do way down.”

Commissioner Joe Byrne asked Caitrin Chappelle to elaborate on what is meant by changing water allocation rules.

Ms. Chappelle said there is more detail in the report, but the thought is that there is dis-alignment across state, federal, and local agencies and jurisdictions and regulations that can present a barrier to the types of projects that are going to be needed to build better for resilience.  “The example that John gave about expanding floodplains and what that means for riparian water rights is something that we can think about as taking project by project, or its something that the state can think about at a broader level when it thinks about its different agencies and what their missions are and how to align them better and what role does our water rights system play in that.  I think to date, people ask for exceptions to the rules when they are trying to do good things instead of an overall strategy to try to promote and incentivize these types of projects and I think the role that water rights reform can play in that is a really important piece for this water resilience portfolio to take a look at.”

Commissioner Byrne noted that some agencies are having difficulties in implementing recycled water projects because there are ecosystems that have grown up and are dependent upon the water that’s being discharged.  (He referred to Water Code 1211, which states, ‘(a) Prior to making any change in the point of discharge, place of use, or purpose of use of treated wastewater, the owner of any wastewater treatment plant shall obtain approval of the board for that change. The board shall review the changes pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 10 (commencing with Section 1700) of Part 2 of Division 2. (b) Subdivision (a) does not apply to changes in the discharge or use of treated wastewater that do not result in decreasing the flow in any portion of a watercourse.’  (More on this by clicking here.)  He noted that this can be a fairly significant impediment to some agencies being able to implement recycled water projects.

That’s an example of where making regional plans, studying regional priorities, and identifying the tradeoffs would be helpful,” Ms. Chappelle said.  “Recycled water is a good example of that.  As we increase our investments in recycled water, there are going to be tradeoffs with downstream users, the environment being one of them.  And so how can we think about what investments we want to prioritize while also protecting those downstream users, and if we do that at more of a regional and planned level, instead of project by project, I think we’d have a better chance.”

It’s also important to incorporate data and science into that decision making, she noted.  “Using recycled water as an example, as people start investing in these projects, knowing what the impacts are to the environment and looking at science but data is needed to understand that, especially because recycled water production might be variable just like other types of water supplies are,” she said.  “There’s a pilot project going on where they are taking a close look at the metrics for the impacts of increasing recycled water to the LA River, especially because there are a lot of different goals for river restoration down there, both for recreation, for the environment, and also for improving local water supply reliability, so longer term plans that incorporate data and science I think will help with some of those trade-offs.”

Chair Quintero pointed out the need for good public information.  “The better that we can, as the water community, take the abstract and put it into the conceptual for the public, the further we’re going to go because this is really going to take an investment on the public’s part and also real change in habit and understanding, and I think about things like the public really needs a real-time feedback mechanism for their water use …

Bob Wilkinson noted that the Department of Food and Ag has a healthy soils initiative.  “It is quite remarkable to see how much water healthy soils can retain, which means less is required, but also sequestration of carbon, so you’ve got a win-win-win going there.”

The Commission then took public comment.


Irvine Ranch Water District is a large retail water agency in Orange County, serving 420,000 residents with water, sewer, urban runoff, and recycled water.  “I’m here to encourage you as we look at where California goes next, which is something we’ve been thinking a lot about for many years.  I wanted to highlight a couple different areas.  One is encouraging greater recycled water use, both purple pipe and potable reuse, and thank you Commissioner Byrne for raising the issue on 1211 because that is one of the hurdles that other communities are facing.”

We should also look at incentivizing the development of more emergency supplies.  This is something that we’ve done at IRWD … really how do we encourage water agencies and communities to invest in supplies so that when we’re in times of water shortage, those supplies are there.  For us, that’s really an investment in water banking and conjunctive use. … I would encourage you to delve farther in, along with water transfers and water markets in the state.  Those are areas we see a lot of potential in for the state, and areas that as we look at climate change adaptation going forward, can be some areas where we can have some wins.”


I’m here to encourage you to consider featuring recycled water in this portfolio strategy for a lot of the reasons that have been discussed today, but recycled water does provide a drought-proof sustainable supply of water that is in fact climate resilient.  Next month, our association, Water Reuse California will be issuing our own action plan that identifies basically four strategy areas where we see the state and local agencies need to take to really push recycled water to the next level.”

These four strategy areas include completing research to advance water recycling and potable reuse … there are about 5 or 6 really critical research areas that need to move forward for us to develop regulations.  Developing the regulations for potable reuse is a major strategy area at the Water Board as well as the regulations for on-site reuse.  We need to update our existing purple pipe regulations that haven’t been updated in more than 20 years, and we need to address and come up with understandable strategies.  Part of our action plan will be making some recommendations about clarifying the 1211 process because this is in fact a major issue for inland recycling.”

We also have a major strategy area of looking at increasing integration between wastewater and water agencies, particularly in coastal areas and in areas where groundwater is depleted and we have the opportunity for groundwater recharge with recycled water.”

And then finally, finding the money is a key strategy.  We need to look at the low-interest loan and grant funding that we have at the Clean Water SRF at the State Water Board.  Right now we have $7 billion backlog for recycled water and wastewater and that’s primarily recycled water, and that doesn’t include more than 20 potable reuse projects that are planned throughout the state, so that’s almost the tip of the iceberg.  Now most of us working recycled water know that 50% of project funds or more usually come from the local level, but we do need to make sure we have that low interest loan program at the Clean Water SRF and we need to find ways to bring additional money into this program because it is so critical.”

So those are the four areas, when the report is complete next month, we’ll be issuing it to help inform this process.”


Jonas Minton noted that he is working with an ad hoc group that has come together to develop consensus recommendations and are tackling a number of issues, including some of the tough issues such as water allocations and drought mitigation.  They had their first meeting recently, with over 50 leaders from urban water districts, ag districts, enviro groups, EJ, tribal, business, flood and fire agencies.

We will be putting up a webpage … It started on a mobile phone and in three weeks, we’re getting to a webpage, and we’ll have Google Docs so documents can be reviewed that we can massage these recommendations.  We will have them available in our first draft set early August and available for your review at that time.”


Gary Bobker noted that he also is working with a group of environmental and public interest organizations which will be developing their recommendations for the state, but in his comments today, he would focus on three themes.

First, the state’s portfolio needs to articulate and require measurable outcomes to capture the benefits.  This is something that many of us have been involved in trying to promote in decision making and implementation for many years, and the Water Commission can be proud that its effort to develop the benefit criteria represented one of the most aggressive cutting edge efforts to actually do that.  We need to replicate that as do the agencies that are going to be developing the portfolio.  The state needs to be clear about what are its priorities, which I suggest are things like access to drinking water quality, restoration of sensitive aquatic ecosystems, and development of local self-reliance in order to reduce vulnerability to imported or other vulnerable water supplies, and then ensure that a significant portion of the benefits that are proposed by projects actually result in those outcomes.”

Second, it’s really important that the portfolio represent a systems approach …  It’s really time for us to look at suites of projects in evaluating them because of the interconnections between them.  How we operate groundwater and our groundwater capacity affects how we operate surface storage projects, and how we control demand affects the need for conveyance – it’s all interconnected and we need to evaluate it but more important than that, we need to identify the suites of projects that should move forward and that makes sense together.  That’s the way we’ll get both efficiency and cost effectiveness.  I think people’s heads nods when you say that, but the willingness to actually do it requires a lot of work and the state needs to think seriously about the resources and methodology in order to do that.”

The third point I want to make, in looking at water budgets, we need to be nuanced about what we’re doing.  Now it’s logical, for many years many people have identified the need to take less during dry periods and take more during wet periods, and certainly as the climate hydrology becomes flashier, there will be needs to both control flooding and take opportunities with the water that comes in the wet periods.  But there’s a potential huge cost to doing that, and that’s what are currently surplus flows over minimums that are required for environmental protections; they are really what keep aquatic ecosystems alive in the state of California.  If we develop large scale new capacity to capture those flows, and we start attenuating all of the peak flows that are available, we will administer a coup de gras to our aquatic ecosystems, so we really need to think very carefully about both the development of capacity and the use of that capacity in ways to think about how we use natural infrastructure to capture those flows in ways that can actually benefit rather than harm those ecosystems.”


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