FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, November 4, 2013
Contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; [email protected]; Twitter: @shopcraft; @MrSandHillCrane; Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta
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My Desert Sun: California water plan outlines broad goals
By Ian James October 31, 2013
The state released a water plan Thursday laying out broad goals for alleviating a list of big problems, among them worsening water scarcity, uncertain water supplies, declining groundwater levels and contaminated drinking water.
The California Water Action Plan was prepared after Gov. Jerry Brown directed state agencies to develop a list of priorities during the next five years. While much of the 17-page plan is short on specifics, it summarizes objectives in an attempt to put multiple agencies on the same page and bring greater focus to the state’s efforts.
“It’s our chance to put everything in one place and give it priorities and give it a big push,” Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird said in a telephone interview. “What we’re really talking about with the state Water Action Plan is the fact that we have to do much more in many different areas, and all over the state.”
Some of the 10 objectives listed in the plan include boosting conservation to make it a “way of life” in California, increasing regional self-reliance, restoring ecosystems, preparing better for dry periods, expanding water storage capacity and moving forward with a plan to build tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to carry water southward to farms and cities.
The Coachella Valley’s water agencies strongly support the proposed $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan as a way to bring bigger and more reliable deliveries of water to Southern California.
Opponents call the Delta tunnels plan a boondoggle, saying it would harm the environment and wouldn’t fix the state’s water problems.
The organization Restore the Delta said the newly released water plan is an attempt by the state government to “greenwash” a water grab.
“If it’s going to be tied into a package with the BDCP at the center, then all it really is a matter of greenwashing because if you don’t eliminate the tunnels, you are still perpetuating the system of moving water throughout the state from one watershed to another, which will inflict environmental damage,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta.
She said that while the water plan’s goals for conservation and regional water projects make sense, the governor appears to be wrapping the Delta tunnels plan together with other more widely popular objectives in order to sell the package politically. “The truth is it’s the BDCP behind this that they’re trying to push forward, and they will continue to try to repackage it,” she said.
Laird denied that, saying the Delta plan is a piece of a larger strategy focused on both improving the reliability of water supplies and improving the health of aquatic ecosystems. Proponents say the Delta proposal would help endangered fish and other wildlife by creating additional habitat and moving water intakes.
The draft of the state water plan was prepared by the California Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Agency and Department of Food and Agriculture. Its release comes as lawmakers are promoting a proposed $6.5 billion water bond that would go before voters next year and would raise funds for infrastructure projects.
In its introduction, the plan describes the scope of California’s water challenges: “There is broad agreement that the state’s water system is currently unable to satisfactorily meet both ecological and human needs, too exposed to wet and dry climate cycles and natural disasters, and inadequate to handle the additional pressures of future population growth and climate change.”
The aims of the state government, it says, are to “move California toward more sustainable water management by providing reliable water supply for our farms and communities, restoring important wildlife habitat and species, and helping the state’s water systems and environment become more resilient.”
The plan says that developing more reliable water supplies can improve drought preparedness, and that adapting is an increasingly urgent priority.
“The effects of climate change are already being felt and will worsen,” it says “More frequent and more severe dry periods will threaten the health of our natural systems and our ability to meet our diverse water supply and water quality needs.”
The document lists remedies such as promoting local conservation ordinances and developing more facilities to store water, both above ground in reservoirs and underground in natural aquifers.
The state acknowledges in the plan that “much of California’s groundwater is not sustainably managed,” and that as a result groundwater levels have been declining in many areas.
In the Coachella Valley, for instance, The Desert Sun recently documented significant long-term declines in groundwater levels despite efforts to replenish the aquifer using imported water from the Colorado River.
In the plan, the state calls for better management of groundwater across the state and a systematic evaluation of individual aquifers “to determine sustainable yield” – the amount that can be pumped from the ground year-after-year without drawing down water levels.