Is the State on the Right Track?

Guest commentary by Robert Shibatani

It’s been about 30-years since the UN based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with their inaugural Assessment Report. How much has California done and particularly, the water industry with respect to addressing climate change? First, we must identify who we mean by “water industry”. I include all public trust resource agencies at the federal, State and local levels, as well as special districts, private water purveyors and NGOs. The big players of course include the regulatory agencies (e.g., U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, etc.), the State Water Resources Control Board, etc.) as well as agencies more focused on water management (e.g., Department of Water Resources).

In terms of defining “climate change”, I am setting aside for this discussion all GHG, CO2, carbon crediting, and green technology issues, and focusing rather on climate change effects and regulatory oversight on existing water operations. I personally take a dim view of any jurisdiction spending time and resources on GHG emissions since such issues must be dealt with at the national/international levels with China, the U.S., India, the Russian Federation, and Japan as the world’s leading GHG emitters. For California to move ahead and impose GHG emission restrictions on its own industries only adversely affects their competitive standing and hurts Californian industry and ultimately, its consumers. Moreover, on a global scale, whatever California does with GHG is irrelevant. So long as the U.S. continues its abstinence from the Paris Accord and shows little interest in cooperating on the international stage, the individual States cannot effectively address GHGs on their own.

To answer our original question, “Is the State on the Right Track?”  My answer is no.  I would not take this too hard because I am extremely exacting when it comes to hydrology, water management, and the climate-sensitized effects on both. I am not suggesting that the State hasn’t done anything or, that they lack the necessary knowledge to do what is right. They are not on the right track in my view because of their lack of commitment to: 1) shift emphasis away from GHG and CO2 abatement, and 2) revise the on-ground operational requirements through amended regulatory adaptations granted through existing permits, licenses and certifications. For both of these categories, I find that there is little current appetite among State executives to initiate any movement towards directly addressing either of these issues.

The truly sad part about this is that as far back as 2001-2005, California was well ahead of almost everyone else in terms of understanding the potential effects of a changing climate on all aspects of water resources (e.g., water supply, hydropower scheduling, instream flows, reservoir operations viz flood control, downstream thermal refugia, etc.). The early California Energy Commission work through their PIERS program is a compelling example. At that point, the State should have switched focus, and begun updating and amending many of its long-standing principles and decrees (e.g., water rights, the Bay-Delta, exports, instream/unimpaired flows, etc.). Unfortunately, it did not.

California has long made the commitment to acknowledge the potential adverse effects of a changing climate. The 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy is a good example of how that recognition was consolidated. But here is where the next logical step conspicuously lost momentum…and has remained more or less stagnant ever since.

Getting down to brass tacks, let us now grade the primary State water resource agencies in California based on what they have done to aid current water purveyors and other user interests in daily operations with respect to climate change.  This is not an exhaustive list, the gradings are subjective, and they are mine and mine alone and reflect only my personal, professional opinion.

Governor: C-

Executive Branches: D-

State Senate: E

State Assembly: C-

CalEPA: C+



Water Commission: B+

Delta Stewardship Council: B+



About the Author: Robert Shibatani, a physical hydrologist with over 35-years combined academic, legal, consulting and water advisory expertise, is an international expert on reservoir-operations, climate change hydrology, commercial flood damage litigation, and water supply development. He continues to appear as a U.S. expert witness on various water litigation matters around the world (EU, UK, Australia) and provides ongoing expertise on several hurricane commercial damage matters (e.g., Hurricane Harvey) here in the U.S.  He is Managing Partner for The SHIBATANI GROUP International, a division of The SHIBATANI GROUP Inc. and resides between Toronto, Canada and Sacramento, California.



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