Water is released from Lake Natoma at Nimbus Dam into the American River in Sacramento County, California as a precaution against flooding after an atmospheric river storm dumped heavy rain and snow across Northern California. Lake Natoma is located within the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. Photo taken January 5, 2023. Kenneth James / California Department of Water Resources.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Amid Onslaught of Storms, State Must Get Serious About More Pumping, Water Storage

By Dave Puglia, President & CEO, Western Growers

California has once again been caught flat-footed in the aftermath of another round of infrequent yet inevitable wet weather, grounded by inflexible interpretation of the 2019 biological opinions and the persistent, puzzling reluctance to construct new water supply infrastructure in the state. The consequences will be to resign our people, farms and environment to ongoing drought once the existing precipitation runs out.

Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) is right to join his Republican colleagues and other state representatives in calling for common-sense operation of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) pumps. When strong bipartisan voices are in unison, state and federal regulators would be well served to listen up.

As noted by Rep. Costa in his letter to federal and state officials, the 2019 biological opinions provide the flexibility and authority required for CVP and SWP operators to pump at full capacity provided that listed species will be minimally impacted. With trillions of gallons of water currently flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta system, I am confident the science would support a decision to move maximum-allowable water into Central and Southern California surface and groundwater storage facilities. Farmers can be instrumental in this regard, as innovative Central Valley farms like Terranova Ranch and Woolf Farming routinely flood their fields to help replenish depleted aquifers.

However, the solution to pump more is only part of the equation. Longer term, the state must take action to build additional above- and below-ground facilities as well as improved infrastructure to move water to and from storage sites. In 2014, California voters passed Proposition 1, which dedicated $2.7 billion to water storage projects. In 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which included $8 billion to enhance water supply reliability across the West. So, the money is there. But is the political will?

It is time for Gov. Gavin Newsom to make good on the promises made in California’s Water Supply Strategy, namely creating storage space for four million acre-feet of water. Let’s not let another drop of future storm water in this state go to waste..

NOTE: Guest commentaries express the views of the author only, and should not be attributed to Maven’s Notebook.

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