California Water Issues
Our Water Committee monitors and recommends action on issues concerning water in our state. The committee is always interested in learning about major water initiatives going forward around the state. Contact for more info: water *at* lwvc.org.
Check out In this TED Talk given during the recent drought, environmental engineer David Sedlak explains how cities can transition away from reliance on imported water.
WATER: Finite Supplies, Competing Demands
Voters will continue to face large water-related expenditures in the coming years. Making informed decisions on these investments in managing California’s water resources is difficult, given unclear answers to key questions such as:
- How should limited and unpredictable freshwater supplies be allocated among competing municipal, industrial, agricultural, and environmental uses?
- Who is responsible and accountable for managing surface water and groundwater supplies and quality?
- How much will it cost to ensure safe and reliable supplies for a growing population and for damaged ecosystems?
- How will we pay to build new infrastructure and maintain aging infrastructure to deal with drought, flood risks, and climate fluctuations?
- Who should pay?
Water resources management processes underway
Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan
The functioning of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is central to water management for much of California. Under the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, the State Water Resources Control Board is responsible for developing a Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan that sets water quality objectives meant to protect beneficial uses of water as well as the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Over the decades, the Water Board has not been diligent in meeting this requirement to set and enforce water quality objectives, with the result that water uses have evolved in ways that have contributed to ecosystem damage. In 2016, LWVC signed on to letters to the Water Board and USEPA urging completion of an update to the Bay Delta Plan.
In July 2018, the Water Board released the draft final documents for the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan (Bay Delta Plan) update for the Lower San Joaquin River and Southern Delta Salinity, as well as a framework document for the Sacramento River and the rest of the Delta. The newly-released Bay Delta Plan calls for increasing flows on the lower San Joaquin River tributaries (the Tuolumne, the Merced, and the Stanislaus rivers) to 40 percent of unimpaired flow within a range of 30 to 50 percent from February through June.
People concerned about fisheries, habitat, and the health of the Bay-Delta Estuary argue that this is not enough—that at least 60 percent of unimpaired flow is necessary to fully protect fish and wildlife. Water users on the three affected tributaries argue that meeting this unimpaired flow target will leave communities and agriculture with inadequate water for beneficial uses within their watersheds, with potentially devastating consequences to regions already struggling economically. The opportunity to reassert arguments about fish versus farms has activated farming interests and communities in the southern Central Valley that are not directly affected by the Bay Delta Plan, which will impact tributaries in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.
More than other recent developments in state water planning and management, the Bay Delta Plan challenges the LWVC to reflect on the application of state and national Water and Agriculture positions to ongoing conflicts regarding beneficial uses of water in California.
Allocation of water bond funds
Voters approved the most recent water bond, the $7.545 billion Proposition 1, in November 2015. This bond makes funding available for watershed restoration, conservation, recycling, groundwater recharge, and improving water quality for disadvantaged communities. The California Water Commission is responsible for deciding how $2.7 billion of the bond funding will be spent on public benefits associated with water storage.
The League did not support Proposition 1 primarily because of our opposition to new on-stream storage and because we considered it likely that high-profile projects would dominate the Water Storage Investment Program process and bond funding. We are happy to see that the project selection process has resulted in funding for some of the kinds of groundwater storage and innovative projects that represent the future of water management in California.
See our letter to the California Water Commission commending them on their commitment to making the whole process open and transparent.
Sustainable groundwater management
State legislation passed in 2014, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), requires local water managers throughout the state to develop plans to sustainably manage overdrafted aquifers. SGMA gives the State Water Resources Control Board authority to restrict groundwater pumping in subbasins that do not develop approved sustainability plans. See our 2016 Groundwater Update for more details.
NEW! Lower Klamath Project
At the urging of LWV Humboldt County, we sent a letter of support to the State Water Resources Control Board for its Draft Environmental Impact Report calling for removal of four dams on the Klamath River.
Strawberry Creek, San Bernadino County & Nestle Waters Unauthorized Water Diversion
The LWV of San Bernardino area was one of the instigators leading to the State of California Water Resources Board to take action limiting the amount of water Nestle can take out of the San Bernardino National Forest.
- Read the Water Resources Board Letter of violation of unauthorized water diversion to Nestle Waters of North America
Bay-Delta Infrastructure Planning:
Millions of urban water users around California and hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land rely on water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the San Francisco Bay Estuary. For over a decade, state and federal water project contractors supported evolving plans for a multi-billion dollar infrastructure solution to ensuring more reliable water deliveries while restoring collapsing ecosystems in the Delta and the Estuary. The plan involved building two 35-mile tunnels under the Delta to deliver Sacramento River water directly to export pumps.
In January of 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom announced in his first State-of-the-State address that his administration would not support the twin tunnels, most recently know as WaterFix.
Any new infrastructure plan for the Delta will face some of the same challenges as the twin tunnels plan:
- environmental impacts of the project on the Delta and the Estuary
- willingness of the State Water Resources Control Board to approve a new diversion point in the north Delta for diverting water for export
- willingness and ability of agricultural and urban beneficiaries to pay for the project
Drinking Water: Ensuring Quality Water for All Californians
Online Water Encyclopedia from the Water Education Foundation
Aquapedia provides objective information on water in California.