On Thursday, Aug. 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a plan to increase California’s water supply. In the third year of the latest drought, with its end still in the future, state water and environmental officials predict that “… hotter and drier weather could diminish our existing water supply by up to 10% by 2040.” To provide critical water for future Californians, Newsom’s plan goes beyond asking or mandating greater conservation from individuals.
This plan intends to increase water supply from various sources. The results will not be immediate; many will take until the end of this decade and more will require longer. But the intent is to save water for beneficial uses.
“The best science tells us that we need to act now to adapt to California’s water future. Climate change means drought won’t just stick around for two years at a time like it historically has — extreme weather is the new normal here in the American West and California will adapt to this new reality,” Newsom said in the press release. “California is launching an aggressive plan to rebuild the way we source, store and deliver water so our kids and grandkids can continue to call California home in this hotter, drier climate.”
Newsom’s plan, “California’s Water Supply Strategy: Adapting to a Hotter Drier Future,” identifies four major efforts to increase the state’s water supply. These include more water storage, greater recycling of wastewater for safe use, desalination, improving capture of stormwater runoff and more efficient water use.
“The last few years, the hydrology in the state is beginning to change pretty significantly and we have a renewed sense of urgency to address the issue,” Newsom said the news conference announcing the Water Supply Strategy. “It’s not just from a scarcity mind-set. We are focused on creating more supply. The reality is we need to be more creative and more aggressive.”
The California Department of Water Resource’s estimate of a 10% water loss could be between 6 million and 9 million acre-feet (AF) annually, more than Lake Shasta’s (California’s largest reservoir) capacity of 4.5 million AF.
To supplant this potential loss, the plan proposes that the state invest more in wastewater recycling and desalination technology. The proposed goal is to provide 800,000 AF by 2030 and another 1.8 million AF in the next decade.
The 2030 goal will halve the current level of urban water that flows to the ocean and direct it to water needs. The Water Supply Strategy (WSS) notes that not all wastewater can be recycled. Some is needed to discharge brine, and some is necessary to maintain stream flow for fish and wildlife.
WSS commits the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to identify local projects for recycling water that could be operational by 2030 or completed by 2040. A comparable effort for desalinating brackish groundwater also will be undertaken.
This priority was popular among many water agencies. “California urgently needs water recycling supplies to combat the current drought and the ongoing impacts of climate change,” said Jennifer West, WateReuse California managing director. “[We] believe there is great potential to increase the use of recycling in California through the adoption of Direct Potable Reuse regulations (currently under development), funding the backlog of water recycling projects in the state and streamlining permit and approval processes.”
Another major priority is expanding water storage facilities. One piece is greater groundwater recharge. By October, WSS promises that the SWRCB will raise the priority of recharging projects.
Completing major water storage projects already funded is part of the plan as well as rehabilitating dams, whose storage volume must be lowered for public safety downstream.
Reinforcing his urgent point, Newsom emphasized that the state is not borrowing money or waiting to start projects. In the last two budgets, $8 billion, from the surplus, have been appropriated “… to actualize, not just promote, the plan and to implement its principles and we’re doing it with urgency.”
“[The Association of California Water Agencies] supports the governor’s call for the development of new water supplies through increased recycled water, desalination, above- and below-ground storage capacity, and groundwater replenishment,” said Cindy Tuck, ACWA deputy executive director for Government Relations.
Besides more efforts to increase conservation, WSS notes that the state’s water rights laws, more than 100 years old, can become an impediment. Consequently, there will be efforts to “… consider regulations, legislation, and pursuing resources needed to streamline and modernize the water right system, clarify senior water rights, and establish more equitable fees.”
Besides water rights law, another target for change is environmental regulations.
“The time to get these damn projects is ridiculous, it’s absurd, it’s reasonably comedic,” Newsom lamented. “In so many other ways the world we invented is from an environmental perspective now getting in the way of moving these projects forward so that we can address the acuities of Mother Nature. Permits that take years and years and years, one principle of this plan is our efforts to change our permitting.”
However, WSS did not please all concerned about California’s water supply. While the Sierra Club of California acknowledge that WSS contains many environmentally beneficial water supply projects such as water conservation, improved efficiency, water recycling and stormwater capture, which it has long advocated, Brandon Dawson, director of Sierra Club California, still offered significant criticism of the overall plan.
“Unfortunately, this strategy doubles down on promoting water storage projects, such as Sites Reservoir, that won’t provide new water supply but will detrimentally affect California’s rivers, lakes, streams, and communities,” Dawson wrote in a Sierra Club press release. “And it doesn’t address the harmful impacts that Newsom’s antiquated tunnel project, the Delta Conveyance Project, will have on the Bay-Delta region.”
But others reacted more favorably. General Manager Adel Hagekhalil of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said, “We appreciate the administration’s support for new supplies and infrastructure projects such as Pure Water Southern California. We will be working hand in hand with the Governor’s office and the water agencies across the state, the southwest and Metropolitan’s service area to develop new supplies and infrastructure that will provide resilience to protect our health, economy and environment with no one left behind.”
As he finished his statement, Newsom said he would bring these proposals to the legislature before its August recess. “We need to fast track these projects and address the regulatory thicket to move things forward.”