As Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration attempt to establish a comprehensive and cohesive water policy for the state, officials are seeking public input on the draft water resilience portfolio released earlier this month.
The document was issued in response to Newsom’s April 2019 executive order directing his administration to inventory and assess a wide range of water-related challenges and solutions. Completed jointly by the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the draft offers more than 100 recommendations designed to help the state manage drought, floods, threatened fish populations and aging water-delivery infrastructure, among other threats.
“California’s water challenges are daunting, from severely depleted groundwater basins to vulnerable infrastructure to unsafe drinking water in far too many communities,” Newsom said in a press release related to the executive order. “Climate change magnifies the risks. To meet these challenges, we need to harness the best in science, engineering and innovation to prepare for what’s ahead and ensure long-term water resilience and ecosystem health. We’ll need an all-of-above approach to get there.”
Goals and actions of the portfolio are organized in four categories, including: maintaining and diversifying water supplies, protecting and enhancing ecosystems, improving the physical infrastructure for moving and storing water and preparing for threats to the water supply. Additionally, it identifies three priorities of the Newsom administration that complement the portfolio: clean and safe drinking water, voluntary agreements on waterflow level in Delta rivers and the construction of a single tunnel in the Delta.
Erik Vink, executive director of the Delta Protection Commission, opposed the twin-tunnel plan known as WaterFix, and expressed concern that a tunnel project is still part of the state’s plan. Other Delta advocates shared Vink’s concern.
“We are disappointed that the portfolio includes the Delta tunnel because the tunnel does not increase water resiliency for the state,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a Stockton-based environmental advocacy organization. “It will perpetuate dependence on the Delta instead, and create a water market for water transfers that will make the special interests that control special water districts even richer. We wanted to see a portfolio without a tunnel at least analyzed against a portfolio with a tunnel. Without that, the question will never be settled fully. We also believe that California will struggle in perpetuity with these issues until we bring water demand into balance with supply.”
While Newsom’s predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, was a staunch advocate for the twin-tunnel plan known as WaterFix, Newsom’s enthusiasm for the highly-contested project never appeared more than lukewarm. In his State of the State address in February 2019, he first floated the single-tunnel concept. The following April, permit requests necessary for the construction of the WaterFix tunnels were withdrawn at Newsom’s direction, and plans for the single tunnel began to take shape.
The U.S. Geological Survey predicts a 66% probability of a major earthquake in Northern California in the next 30 years, the report argues. Such a quake could damage the current system of canals and levees that convey water from the Delta to Southern California, and disrupt water delivery for up to half the state’s population. The Newsom administration contends a tunnel will safeguard the water supply against seismic activity, as well as the threat of saltwater intrusion into the Delta.
“This draft portfolio has been shaped to provide tools to local and regional entities to continue building resilience, and to encourage collaboration within and across regions,” Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said. “At the same time, state government needs to invest in projects of statewide scale and importance, and tackle challenges beyond the scope of any region. Taken together, the proposed actions aim to improve our capacity to prepare for disruptions, withstand and recover from shocks, and adapt from these experiences.”
Sierra Club California sent an eight-page letter to Nancy Vogel, director of the Governor’s Water Portfolio Program, in which they stated the draft needs “much work,” and provided a number of recommendations for improvement.
“Overall, the draft report suffers from an unprioritized list of actions and paradoxical inclusion of projects that would be unnecessary if the state truly encourages regions to be self-sufficient and less dependent on water from other areas of the state,” wrote Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips and Policy Advocate Brandon Dawson in the club’s Jan. 13 letter to Vogel. “Unfortunately, it is ultimately a restatement of water policy pursued by previous administrations, depending heavily on a few large scale and outdated water fixes that distract from the need to rapidly shift the system to accommodate known climate change impacts.”
Deirdre Des Jardins, principal of California Water Research, was critical of the portfolio in her Jan. 13 blog post, stating it lacked clear goals and objectives. Des Jardins said measurable targets for investment must be developed for the portfolio to meet its goals.
“Some of the projects are good ideas, but there was no information about the priority of the projects nor the timeline,” said Karen Mann, president of Save the California Delta Alliance. “It was great to see the recycling of storm water and study of desalination as part of this portfolio. Residents of Discovery Bay will be pleased that the 2019 legislation requires the Water Board to establish and maintain programs to reduce and/or eliminate toxic algae in our waterways.”
The draft water resilience portfolio can be found at bit.ly/thepress_waterportfolio. Members of the public can submit written feedback on the draft portfolio through Feb. 7 via email to email@example.com. A final version of the portfolio is expected soon after the close of the comment period.