California’s Sustainable Water Plan March 2017


The California Sustainable Water Plan outlines water projects in California that build regional sustainability and permanent regional jobs.
This evolving document is offered as a counter to the 2014 California Water Action Plan. While that plan includes many projects that are not controversial and should receive full funding, the plan does not prioritize needed flood control projects which can help to restore groundwater basins and make supply; ignores the multitude of small projects that we need in California to augment regional self-sufficiency; ignores repairing the 678 dams that need repair to sustain our present water supply; fails to plan for upgrading water mains to increase by our urban water supply by 15 percent; and does little to address floodplain restoration.
The Problem
California has three emerging water issues that must be addressed.
1. Our infrastructure is failing. The Oroville Dam spillway crisis has shown how far California has fallen behind in essential upkeep of our existing water infrastructure. Recent urban water main breaks, like the one near UCLA, also illustrate California’s water infrastructure maintenance deficit.m
2. Climate scientists tell us that extreme droughts and floods are the new normal in California. Our climate is changing; it will become increasingly more challenging to provide water to the people, economy, and nature during droughts. It will become necessary to capture water efficiently and safely during wet periods. Presently, 20 percent of California’s energy use can be attributed to moving water over long distances, which is not an efficient use of energy or a safe water management strategy.
3. The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is collapsing and the West Coast’s historic fish species (including salmon) are headed towards extinction due to excessive water exports from the Delta. The 2009 Delta Reform Act requires us to lessen our dependence on the estuary and to move toward regional water sustainability. We must begin complying with this law.
The Solution

Jump to: Conservation and Efficiency | Reuse | Stormwater Capture
We can address these problems by not building the $17B Delta Tunnels and redirecting that money to dozens of local projects that provide good, long-term jobs.
A Plan B for the Delta Tunnels

The most recent estimates by the American Society of Civil Engineers for 2017 put needed repairs to California water infrastructure at more than $50 billion.

When asked about alternatives to the Delta Tunnels in December 2015, Governor Jerry Brown said, “I don’t think there is a Plan B.” This view was reflected in February 2016 by State Building and Construction Trades Council president Robbie Hunter who said the Tunnels are “…the only viable solution to protect the Delta environment and secure water deliveries.”
The power-brokers and concrete-pourers claim that California’s water security can only be achieved with the massive Delta Tunnels construction project with a $17 billion price tag, likely far more when overruns and finance costs are included (see Bay Bridge).
State and federal agencies now considering permits for the Delta Tunnels. remain unconvinced the proposal can meet clean water standards to protect the San Francisco Bay-Delta, the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas.
The EPA called the Tunnels’ most recent Environmental Impact Report “inadequate” and issued a failing grade until better science is completed. A majority of the Santa Clara Valley Water District board members have expressed serious reservations about the tunnels project, one citing the potential extinction of salmon and California’s salmon fishing industry, which generates $1.5 billion in economic activity annually.
Then Came Oroville
The Oroville Dam spillway crisis of 2017 displaced 200,000 Californians for two days. The narrowly-averted disaster was a warning signal to every state resident. Our existing water infrastructure has fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair.
The most recent estimates by the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 put needed repairs to California water infrastructure at more than $50 billion.
California’s political leaders could provide for water security and protect the San Francisco Bay-Delta by directing investments into projects that improve regional water sustainability and create long-term jobs.
In the report “A Sustainable Water Plan for California” the Environmental Water Caucus outlined some cost-effective solutions to California’s emerging water needs that will protect the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary in the process. These projects improve urban and agricultural water conservation, reuse and recycled water, and capture and store local rainwater.
Why consider alternatives to the Delta Tunnels?
Developing regional self-reliance is the best way to provide a more reliable water supply. This requires investment in water conservation, maximizing wastewater reuse and groundwater recharge, while capturing storm water and rainwater, gray water, and fixing leaky local pipes. Cleaning up aquifers and providing jobs for local water makes economic sense.
Dr. Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific has pointed out that the investments in water conservation create 15 to 20 jobs per million dollars of expenditure, as opposed to the five jobs per million dollars of investment that is touted for the Delta Tunnels.
The Los Angeles-based nonprofit Economic Roundtable found that investments in water use efficiency reduce this region’s water consumption and dependence on large, statewide water diversion projects that have adverse environmental impacts and create large numbers of jobs that pay sustaining wages and generate broad expansion in local business activity.
Southern California labor unions have expressed interest in mass deployment of gray water systems. The workers are ready for these investments.
Below are projects currently in operation or planned/proposed that could be duplicated in other regions of California. Others await funding but represent smart investments. This “living document” will be continually updated as we become aware of new proposals to build regional water sustainability in California.
Jump to: Reuse | Stormwater Capture

“Make conservation a California way of life”
– Action Item #1 in California Water Action Plan (2014)

Water conservation is the official policy of the state of California. The California Constitution has a “reasonable use” doctrine for water and it is time for a cost-benefit analysis to be applied as to the best use of water exported from the Bay-Delta watershed.
During the summer of 2015, urban water users throughout California beat state goals for water conservation during a drought. In Southern California, many of these reductions will become permanent as lawns are removed, drip irrigation is installed, and people replace leaky toilets. Mayor Garcetti has directed Los Angeles to permanently cut water use by 20 percent in 2017.
Conservation is the Cheapest Route to Sustainability

Retiring toxic farmland and curbing the water rights associated with it would result in a savings to California of up to 455,000 acre-feet of water – for reference, the City of Los Angeles uses 587,000 acre-feet in a typical year.

Conservation costs just $210 per acre-foot of water according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Compare that cost to new conveyance and surface storage water projects cost between $760 to $2000 per acre-foot of water.
21st century water supply solutions can offer up to 14 million acre-feet in new supplies and demand reductions per year, more water than is used in all of California’s cities in a year. These savings would provide enough water to serve 20 cities the size of Los Angeles, every year according to the Pacific Institute.
Legislation requiring new commercial development or residential development to be plumbed for on-site reuse whether it uses greywater, rain water or storm water is how these goals can be achieved.
Urban Water Conservation
Urban areas use about 20 percent of the state’s developed water supply, much of which is delivered from reservoirs hundreds of miles away at great ecological and energy cost. Improved efficiency, storm water capture, and greater water reuse can together save a total of 5.2 to 7.1 million acre-feet of water per year, enough water to supply all of urban Southern California and have water remaining to help restore ecosystems and recharge aquifers. These approaches also cut energy use, boost local water reliability, and improve water quality in coastal regions.
Water-saving technologies could increase efficiency 30 to 60 percent. This would save an estimated 0.74 million to 1.6 million acre-feet per year
Widespread adoption of water-saving appliances and fixtures, along with replacement of lawns with water-efficient landscapes, could reduce total residential water use by 40 to 60 percent, saving 2.2 million to 3.6 million acre-feet per year.
Agricultural Water Conservation
Because agriculture uses the majority of California’s developed water, this sector offers the largest potential for conservation. Increasing drip irrigation technology, ending the irrigation of polluted farmlands, and instituting tiered price structures could reduce as much as five million acre-feet of water per year.
Agriculture uses about 80 percent of California’s developed water supply. Agricultural water users can develop more sustainable water use by expanding adoption of key modern irrigation technologies and practices, such as drip irrigation and precise irrigation scheduling. Some farmers are already employing these practices, which, extended, can reduce agricultural water use by 17 to 22 percent – or 5.6 to 6.6 million acre-feet of water annually. These savings are the equivalent to the surface water that Central Valley farms are lacking this year due to the drought.
Key to understanding California’s water “crisis” is the simple fact that irrigated agriculture on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is a massive consumer of California’s water. Big Desert agriculture has benefitted enormously from the taxpayer-subsidized water and their lobbyists exert profound influence over California water policy in Sacramento and Washington, DC.
Most of the water from the Delta Tunnels would serve large agricultural concerns like Stewart Resnick’s “Wonderful” Company. Last November, a Forbes Magazine feature explained, “The Resnicks are already looking to secure additional water sources. The couple could score big if a $15 billion water project championed by Governor Jerry Brown is officially approved in the next few years.”
California agriculture made record-breaking profits in 2015, even during the drought. Their cries of impending doom are simply not credible.
Toxic Farmland Retirement
In 2015, EcoNorthwest, an independent economic analysis firm, found that that 300,000 acres of toxic land in the Westlands Water District and three adjacent Broadview, Panoche, Pacheco water districts could be retired at a cost of $580 million to $1 billion.
Retiring this land and curbing the water rights associated with it would result in a savings to California of up to 455,000 acre-feet of water – for reference, the City of Los Angeles uses 587,000 acre-feet in a typical year.
Floodland Restoration
The Rancho Breisgau Habitat Restoration Project proposal shows how expanding the retirement of flood prone farmland, develop those riverside lands both for habitat and flood attenuation such as along the main-stem Upper San Joaquin, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus River and in Sac Valley.
Similar opportunities exist along the San Joaquin River where flood control is desperately needed. Twenty years after the damaging 1997 floods, the San Joaquin watershed remains highly vulnerable, and the current flood fight that may drag on during the Spring snowmelt season. Some improvements have been made to the river’s flood-control system, but others have yet to materialize, even after decades of discussion.

Potential proposals and projects:
– Adopt/install key modern irrigation technologies and practices, such as drip irrigation and precise irrigation scheduling for urban and agricultural water conservation
– Retire 300,000 acres of toxic farmland in the Westlands Water District and the three Broadview, Panoche, Pacheco adjacent water districts
– Mandate new commercial/residential development to be plumbed with onsite reuse water, greywater, rain water or stormwater
– Implement large-scale new water-saving technologies and the adoption or upgrade of water and water-saving appliances like toilets and landscapes/lawns, water meters, etc.
– Implement floodland (especially along key parts of the San Joaquin River) and meadow restoration
Examples: High-Country Meadow Restoration Program, Rancho Breisgau Habitat Restoration Project, Los Angeles city policy to cut water use by 20%

Back to top of section
Back to top of page

Jump to: Conservation and Efficiency | Stormwater Capture

Two-thirds of the reuse potential is in coastal areas where wastewater is discharged into the ocean or into streams that drain into the ocean.

Water Recycling
There is tremendous opportunity to expand water reuse in California. Water reuse potential in California, beyond what has already been achieved, ranges from 1.2 million to 1.8 million acre-feet per year. Two-thirds of the reuse potential is in coastal areas where wastewater is discharged into the ocean or into streams that drain into the ocean. In these areas, expanding water reuse may provide both water supply and water quality benefits.
In Southern California, 2.7 million acre-feet of treated wastewater is dumped into the ocean annually. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has plans to build one of the largest recycled water programs in the world. Treating and reusing urban wastewater, graywater, and stormwater can generate an additional 2 million acre-feet per year by 2030 and provide long-lasting jobs to the region.
The Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) recently unveiled plans for a water purification plant that would make the district entirely self-reliant on local water.
Los Angeles water recycling has a master plan going from 1-2% to 8-10% in a huge system. Wastewater Master plan is completed and incorporating the One Water Program between agencies.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Urban Water Management Plan for 2010 set a goal of using 35 percent less imported water in Los Angeles and has a detailed plan to achieve this goal. An estimated 670,000 acre-feet of municipal wastewater is already beneficially reused in the state each year (SWRCB and DWR 2012). Onsite reuse—including the use of graywater—is also practiced in communities across California, although data are not available to estimate these volumes. More can and should be done.
When the Groundwater Reliability Improvement Project (GRIP) / Advanced Water Treatment Facility (AWTF) is completed in 2018, WRD’s two groundwater basins, the Central and West Coast Basins, will be exclusively replenished with captured stormwater and recycled water, much of which will be purified by the GRIP facility for safe and reliable groundwater replenishment
Orange County Green Acres Project is a water reuse effort that provides recycled water for landscape irrigation at parks, schools and golf courses; industrial uses, such as carpet dying; toilet flushing; and power generation cooling. Learn more about the GAP.
Orange County’s Groundwater Replacement System Expansion will increase GWRS treatment capacity to 130 million gallons a day.
Pure Water San Diego is a multi-year program that will provide one-third of San Diego’s water supply locally by 2035. The Pure Water Program will use proven water purification technology to clean recycled water to produce safe, high-quality drinking water.
Pure Water, is hoping to use wastewater to start producing 30 million gallons a day of drinkable water within the next six years.
Padre Dam Water Recycling Facility
Padre Dam has been recycling its wastewater for over 50 years. The facility treats 2 million gallons of water a day.
In July 2016, Padre Dam Municipal Water District was awarded $4.5 million from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title XVI program. Title XVI funding is available on a project-specific basis for the planning, design and construction of water recycling and reuse projects. Padre Dam will use the funding to expand the Ray Stoyer Water Recycling Facility and begin construction of the East County Advanced Water Purification Facility.
The Advanced Water Purification Program will create a new, local, sustainable and drought proof drinking water supply using state-of-the-art technology to purify East County’s recycled water. This water recycling opportunity would diversify East County’s water supply and reduce our dependence on imported water. If the program moves forward, it will meet approximately 25-30 percent of East County’s current drinking water demands.
North Valley (Modesto/Turlock) Regional Recycled Water Program
On August 26, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Del Puerto Water District broke ground for a water recycling project to take treated water from Modesto and Turlock across the Valley in a new pipeline, to be shared among South of Delta farmers and wildlife refuges. Eventually, the project will provide up to 48,000 acre-feet (59m cubic meters) of drought proof supply, with one-quarter going to wetlands and the rest to farmers.
The NVRRWP will allow Turlock and Modesto to send its treated wastewater to the Del Puerto Water District via a direct pipeline (or pipelines) to the Delta-Mendota Canal. Del Puerto Water District will, in turn, distribute that water to the agricultural customers within its service area. As much as 30,600 acre feet per year could be available as soon as 2018.
Tracy Lake
The Tracy Lake Groundwater Recharge Project will pull water from the Mokelumne River to an area off Forest Lake Road in Acampo to create a year-round lake. The purpose is to reduce groundwater overdraft in the area by using a portion of unused Mokelumne River water right, and keep area groundwater wells full.
The total capital cost of this project has been less than $3 million provided by a small (approx. $400,000 USBuRec grant) and the adjacent vineyardists whose contributions will be reimbursed over time by North San Joaquin through reduced water charges.

Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center
The Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, which commenced operations in 2014, is the largest advanced water purification plant in Northern California.
The state-of-the-art facility takes treated wastewater that would have otherwise been discharged into the San Francisco Bay and purifies it by using three proven purification processes: microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light. The result is up to 8 million gallons a day of highly purified water that is expected to match California primary drinking water standards.
The highly purified water produced at the new purification center will be blended with the existing recycled water supply produced at the neighboring San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility to enhance its quality and expand its usage.
The center will demonstrate proven technologies to produce highly purified water that can be used for a variety of purposes, including potentially expanding Silicon Valley’s future drinking water supplies.
Salinas Valley Reclamation Project (SVRP)
The Salinas Valley Reclamation Project (SVRP) treats wastewater to advanced tertiary level. The resultant recycled water meets all State Standards for recreational uses, including unrestricted use on freshly edible food crops. The facility is sized to produce a maximum of 29.6 million gallons of recycled water per day. This is the equivalent of one foot of water over 91 acres of land. The SVRP is the largest sewage treatment installation in the world to recycle wastewater for freshly edible food crops. More information.
Pajaro Valley Groundwater
The Pajaro Valley near Watsonville is a small, primarily Hispanic and Latino farming community located in the lower reach of the Pajaro River basin in California’s Central Coast region. The local economy is based on multi-million-dollar agricultural industry that employs thousands of agricultural workers. The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency is on the forefront of experimenting with the use of recycled water in groundwater recharge and conjunctive use activities.
Brackish groundwater reclamation
Groundwater desalting already occurs in SoCal and should be done wherever groundwater basins are overdrafted and there are safe means of disposing the brine by, for example, deep injection (in the San Joaquin Valley) or pipelines to the ocean as is done in Orange County.
Wastewater Recharging of Groundwater
Tri-Valley area in Eastern Alameda county has groundwater basins and recycled wastewater waiting to be recharged, again waiting for public acceptance and agency willingness to do it.

Potential proposals and projects:
– Implement and invest in widespread treatment and reuse of wastewater, graywater, and stormwater, especially in coastal areas
– Desalt brackish groundwater in basins that are overdrafted when safe
– Investment in Metropolitan Water District recycled water program, which would be the largest plant in the world
– Investment in the Water Replenishment District of Southern California’s Water Purification Plan, which would eliminate need for imported water
– Investment in the recharge and recycle of water for groundwater basins in the Tri-Valley area of Eastern Alameda county
Examples of current projects in in progress: Groundwater Reliability Improvement Project (GRIP) / Advanced Water Treatment Facility (AWTF) by the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, Orange County Green Acres Project,Orange County’s Groundwater Replacement System Expansion, Pure Water San Diego, Padre Dam Water Reycling Facility and Advanced Water Purification Program, North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, Tracy Lake Groundwater Recharge Project, Salinas Valley Reclamation Project, Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency Groundwater and recycled water program, Gateway Cities Recycled Water Expansion

Back to top of section
Back to top of page

Jump to: Conservation and Efficiency | Reuse

Stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces in urban and suburban areas when it rains—whether by directing the runoff to open spaces and allowing it to infiltrate into the ground to recharge groundwater supplies or by harvesting the runoff, primarily from rooftops, in rain barrels and cisterns for direct use in nonpotable applications—can be used to increase California’s water supplies dramatically.

Distributed projects aim to capture local runoff to replenish underlying aquifers, reduce potable water demand, and alleviate local flooding. Distributed projects are smaller scale projects that can provide water supply benefit at the neighborhood and even residential level. Examples of projects include infiltration swales, pervious pavement, rain gardens, and rain barrels.
A 2014 issue brief by the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that stormwater capture in urbanized Southern California and the San Francisco Bay region has the potential to increase water supplies by 420,000 to 630,000 acre-feet per year and that rooftop rainwater capture could be used to increase water supplies by as much as 190,000 acre-feet per year, of which nearly 145,000 acre-feet could be gained via rainwater capture systems installed in our homes.
Stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces in urban and suburban areas when it rains—whether by directing the runoff to open spaces and allowing it to infiltrate into the ground to recharge groundwater supplies or by harvesting the runoff, primarily from rooftops, in rain barrels and cisterns for direct use in nonpotable applications—can be used to increase California’s water supplies dramatically. In southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, capturing runoff using these approaches can increase water supplies by as much as 630,000 acre feet each year. Capturing this volume, roughly equal to the amount of water used by the entire City of Los Angeles annually, would increase the sustainability of California’s water supplies while at the same time reducing a leading cause of surface water pollution in the state.
Los Angeles Stormwater Capture Plan
Today, on average, more than 27,000 acre-feet (more than 8.8 billion gallons) of stormwater is captured each year at centralized spreading grounds where it recharges the San Fernando Groundwater Basin. Stormwater runoff that cannot be contained at these facilities is discharged to the Pacific Ocean via streams, rivers, and storm drains. LADWP plans to continue implementing stormwater capture projects that decrease the amount of runoff lost to the Pacific Ocean. Projects include large scale spreading grounds enhancements and smaller scale green streets, rain gardens, and rain barrels.
Improved storage and intake capacities at the Hansen, Tujunga, Pacoima, and Lopez Spreading Grounds will facilitate increased recharge into the San Fernando Groundwater Basin. Projects at the Big Tujunga Dam and Pacoima Dam will increase the storage capacity upstream of the spreading facilities, allowing for controlled flow releases and maximizing the amount of water diverted to spreading facilities.
The State Water Resources and Control Board authorized $200 million to fund stormwater capture projects. These investments could be dramatically increased.
Tujunga Spreading Grounds
More than five billion gallons of water will be saved each year at a new stormwater capture facility now under construction in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
The water is going to percolate down to the groundwater in the San Fernando Basin. Pumping stations to pump out the water, and then we treat it to drinking standards and put that into our drinking system for our consumers.
The expansion will increase that to 16,000 acre-feet [19.7 million cubic meters] – or enough to serve 48,000 households for a year.
LA Green Streets
The Southern California Water Replenishment District estimates that in a single year alone, Los Angeles loses 58 trillion gallons of water to the ocean because of its paved neighborhoods. Green Streets aim to redesign streets to capture and recharge groundwater locally.
The Laurel Canyon Boulevard Green Street Project will construct a series of vegetated infiltration swales and dry wells along the northeast side of Laurel Canyon Boulevard between Terra Bella and Kagel Canyon Streets. During storm events, these swales and dry wells will capture and treat stormwater runoff from an approximate 123-acre drainage area and infiltrate it into the San Fernando Groundwater Basin. During a normal rain year, the Laurel Canyon Boulevard Green Street Project has the potential to replenish 13 million gallons of rainwater annually into underground aquifers
Green Alleys project
This demonstration project will convert 900 linear miles of LA Alleys into spaces that capture and infiltrate storm water. Through the use of permeable pavement, vegetation, and other techniques, green alleys not only facilitate water storage but also prevent polluted runoff from contaminating the ocean.
The City of Los Angeles also provides a Homeowner’s Guide to capturing stormwater.
Orange County
Orange County Water District (OCWD) is the groundwater agency that does a great job on recycling with groundwater recharge-currently up to 103,000 AF and moving up to 130,000!
The Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) is the world’s largest system for indirect potable reuse. The system takes highly treated wastewater that would have previously been discharged into the Pacific Ocean and purifies it using a three-step advanced treatment process.

Potential proposals and projects:
– Implement and invest in smaller scale “distributed projects” that capture runoff such as infiltration swales, pervious pavement, rain gardens, and rain barrels
– Improve storage and intake capacities at the Hansen, Tujunga, Pacoima, and Lopez Spreading Grounds of the San Fernando Groundwater basin
– Dramatically increase State Water Resources Control Board funding of stormwater capture projects
Examples of current projects and policies: Los Angeles Stormwater Capture Plan (which includes large scale spreading grounds enhancements, green streets, etc), Tujuna Spreading Grounds, The Laurel Canyon Boulevard Green Street Project, Green Alleys demonstration project, Orange County’s Groundwater Replenishment System (world’s largest system for indirect potable reuse)

Back to top of section
Back to top of page

Articles/Reports of Interest
Benefit-Cost Analysis of The California WaterFix August 2016 – Center for Business and Policy Research, University of the Pacific
The Untapped Potential of California’s Water Supply: Efficiency, Reuse, and Stormwater – Pacific Institute
A Sustainable Water Future for California – Pacific Institute
Parched California Farmers Hope to Tap Wastewater From Cities – KQED
State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program – California Department of Food and Agriculture
Santa Monica has plans to be independent of imported water – City of Santa Monica
Developing the Technologies, Policies and Strategies to Make L.A. County Sustainable by 2050 – UCLA
Restore Tulare Lake for Water Storage – Revive the San Joaquin
Recycled Water – San Diego County Water Authority
Regional Groundwater Banking and Water Reuse Potential in the San Francisco Bay Area Water Supply System – Masters Thesis, Science – Michelle Anne Lent, UC Berkeley 2002)
With so many needs and opportunities for investment in California’s water infrastructure, we believe the Tunnels Project (WaterFix) should neither be approved, financed, built, nor operated. The Tunnels will accelerate deterioration of the Bay-Delta Estuary by starving it of freshwater flow.
The expensive and ecologically suspect Delta Tunnels would starve California cities, counties, and local water agencies of resources that could fund local and regional water projects that deliver a far bigger bang for the buck and deliver long-term jobs for each region of the state.
Get a printable shortened version of this document, download the PDF.