California officials on Thursday released a five-year “Water Action Plan” intended to avoid a statewide water supply crisis stemming from drought, population growth and climate change.
John Laird, secretary of the state Natural Resources Agency, acknowledged that the plan does not include a lot of new ideas. Rather, the goal is to integrate existing ideas about water supply and conservation and get disparate state agencies working together.
The plan is considered a draft, and is expected to be finalized in December following public comment.
“We have to focus on the whole picture,” Laird said. “What’s new is that it’s never existed in one place as a priority to look at together with everything we want to do in the state.”
As an example of that integration, the plan was unveiled jointly by Laird, state Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matt Rodriquez and Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross.
“What’s added here is a sense of urgency because we see there’s going to be even greater demand or pressures on our water resources,” Rodriquez said. “What we’re committing to here is a comprehensive or holistic look at water … and making a commitment to work collaboratively.”
The plan warns of an “impending water crisis” in California driven by a drought now in its second year, climate change and a state population expected to reach 50 million by 2049.
Solutions target 10 key actions, from making conservation a “way of life” for California residents to boosting surface and groundwater storage. It also emphasizes methods of making communities less reliant on imported water, as well as improving wildlife habitats to collect and store more stormwater runoff.
The storage question is controversial because most Californians don’t want to see streams dammed. But the state has been working on a number of new reservoir proposals for a decade, and feasibility studies are expected by about the end of this year. One is the proposed Sites Reservoir, an “off-stream” facility that would flood a rural valley with water diverted by a canal from the Sacramento River.
Officials said the plan could lead to the state’s first water conservation requirements for agriculture. Farms consume far more water than urban areas in California, but politicians have been unwilling to consider agriculture conservation mandates. This and many other aspects of the plan will require action by the Legislature.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is included as one of the action measures. The controversial $25 billion proposal calls for two large water diversion tunnels on the Sacramento River and more than 100,000 acres of habitat conservation.
Jonas Minton, a senior project manager at the nonprofit Planning and Conservation League, said that while the plan contains many “worthwhile” objectives, it says very little about where the money will come from to carry them out. Also, he said, it is missing one thing the Delta really needs.
“The Plan lacks any commitment to provide more water for the Delta,” he said.
Sacramento-area water planners also see holes in the plan. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan makes many assurances that Delta water exporters will have stable water supplies, but area water officials want guarantees this won’t come at their expense.
“We just didn’t see a lot of language in terms of assurances in this statewide plan,” said John Woodling, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Water Authority.