A coalition of 55 environmental, fishing, and water policy groups has written Gov. Gavin Newsom, backing his Water Portfolio planning process, and announcing that they plan to take an active part with their own proposals for the plan.
Newsom announced his Water Portfolio on April 29. He ordered three state agencies — Natural Resources, EPA, and Food & Agriculture — to prepare “a water-resilience portfolio that meets the needs of California’s communities through the 21st Century.”
The plans will be developed in consultation with the Department of Finance.
The study will include analyses of the following: the goals recommended in the 2016 California Water Action Plan; an update of expected impacts as measured by Climate Change data since 2016; existing water quality for the state’s rivers, lakes and beaches; and projections of impacts on the economy and the environment.
The evaluation process will take a look at the current plan to have a one-tunnel conveyance around the Delta. The plan was made to enable water agencies to access as much water in a year as possible from the State Water Project, which uses the Delta as part of its conveyance system.
Court decisions blocked water agencies from taking water at certain times of the year, in order to protect environmentally-threatened fish and plants. The tunnel is supposed to be a bypass that won’t be affected by the court-ordered pump shutdowns, because the water, although put into the south end of the Delta, would be farther south of the sensitive areas, and would not affect them.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown wanted a second tunnel for maintenance and as a backup for reliability in case the first one broke down, for example in an earthquake. However, Newsom cut it to one tunnel to save money, and to analyze its desirability further.
The state agencies will examine a variety of water topics, such as the capacities of underground water basins, the lack of safe drinking water for 1 million Californians, and impacts of climate change, including droughts and floods.
CONSERVATION GROUPS POINT THE WAY
Among the signers of the coalition’s letter was Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, which is based in Stockton, but has statewide membership, including the Valley.
“To be successful, the Water Portfolio plan must accomplish two goals. First, it needs to reduce reliance on Delta water use. Second, it must create regional water projects that solve water challenges experienced by environmental justice communities from the North Coast down to Chula Vista, while producing local green jobs throughout the state,” Barrigan-Parrilla said in a news release announcing the coalition’s support.
The three-page letter to Newsom says, “In most years, California uses more water than its aquifers and rivers can sustain. As a result, public health and environmental conditions have declined to unacceptable levels and continue to deteriorate. Contaminated drinking water wells, endangered fish species, collapsing fisheries, toxic algae blooms, and land subsidence all evidence the unsustainability of California’s water systems. They are harbingers of even greater consequences with the likely effects of climate change. This is not the legacy to leave for future generations. Instead, we must leave our children a culture, policies, and infrastructure for sustainable water use.”
The letter continues, “However, the Water Portfolio must be more than a list of ideas and projects to improve water use efficiency, storage, and transport. Preparing California for Climate Change will require transforming our economy into a model of sustainability. The Water Portfolio can be a cornerstone of this transformation.”
The groups name two “pillars of sustainability.” One would guarantee safe and affordable clean drinking water for all Californians. The second would protect healthy rivers and the Delta.
They suggest creating a framework that prioritizes projects according to their ability to become sustainable rapidly in a cost-effective way, noting that water supply sources should have priority, so relying on the Delta will become less necessary. They add there should be an emphasis on investments in science and technology to improve water quality monitoring, storm forecasting, river flow management, water use tracking and reporting, and auditing of water use efficiency.
There should also be a “reliable and ample funding stream for all aspects of the State Water Resources Control Board and the regional water boards; a functional water system needs strong regulators. The old models of California water policy are failing to serve the public interest, even if they serve private interests. The Water Portfolio should establish a new model for managing California’s water, grounded in the public interest and long-term sustainability,” the organizations say.
Among the groups signing the letter are Alameda Creek Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity Audubon California, Sierra Club California, San Francisco Baykeepers, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Nature Conservancy.