Executive Summary for January 22nd

Gov. Brown talked about water and infrastructure during his State of the State address, while his team also released a new video about the California Water Fix, his twin tunnels plan. Also, the latest on which groundwater basins are critically overdrafted, and the fight for California drought funding in D.C.

Published on Jan. 22, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Less is More in Gov. Brown’s Annual State of the State Address

Yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown delivered California’s annual State of the State address and he touched on water, infrastructure and climate change.

He cited the passing of Proposition 1, the Water Bond, as a great bipartisan win and stressed his California Water Action Plan to deal with long-term issues.

“We have to recharge our aquifers, manage the groundwater, recycle, capture stormwater, build storage and reliable conveyance, improve efficiency everywhere, invest in new technologies – including desalination – and all the while recognize that there are some limits,” he said.

What may be more telling than what he said was what he didn’t say, which was very little about the California Water Fix (his controversial $15 billion twin tunnels plan). But published text of the speech did link to this video about the proposed project. Even though the mention of “reliable conveyance” was subtle, editors at the Sacramento Bee said the launch of the video coinciding with his address is a bigger statement than it seems.

“The video should be considered a soft launch to a coming campaign of public persuasion – one that will have to get more direct if it is to be successful,” the Sacramento Bee editorial said. “Fightin’ words about water in California don’t stay buried long.”

Brown characteristically also took on climate deniers and spoke about the need to face “our deteriorating infrastructure.” His list included fixing levees, among other things, and the maintenance of roads, highways and bridges. He also made no mention of one of his other controversial projects – a high-speed rail line – that may be upended by a potential ballot initiative seeking to reallocate rail funds to water infrastructure projects.

Is Your Groundwater Critically Overdrafted?

For the first time since 2003, California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) has updated a list of groundwater basins that are critically overdrafted. According to DWR, “Conditions of critical overdraft result from undesirable impacts, which can include seawater intrusion, land subsidence, groundwater depletion, and/or chronic lowering of groundwater levels.”

The state’s most recent final list of 21 basins and subbasins that are critically overdrafted is bad news for much of the Central Valley, as this map shows. The vast majority of these groundwater basins stretch the valley between Bakersfield and Stockton, but there are pockets outside this area, including wine-rich Paso Robles, the Pajaro Valley between Santa Cruz and Monterey, and the Borrego Valley east of San Diego.

Lauren Hersh of the California Department of Water Resources told Capital Public Radio that in determining their recent list they used data from both wet and dry years, but this does not include the most recent drought, which means many of these areas are likely in worse shape.

Californians have been overdrafting groundwater for decades, a practice that is known to increase during drought years when surface water deliveries are curtailed. And we’re not the only ones. Researchers at UC Irvine used NASA satellite data and found that one-third of the planet’s biggest aquifers were in decline – and one of these is California’s Central Valley Aquifer System.

California Water Politics Hit D.C.

The fight for drought legislation took a step forward in Washington D.C. Yesterday Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released the discussion draft of a bill that’s been in the works for quite some time, and which she said was the most difficult she’s ever put together in her 23 years in the Senate.

The bill aims “to provide short-term water supplies to drought-stricken California and provide for long-term investments in drought resiliency throughout the Western United States.”

In the long term, the bill hopes that its 132 projects could generate 1.1 million acre feet of water via recycling or desalination. This would be classified as “new” water. It would dole out $1.3 billion to cover water recycling, desalination and water storage.

In the short term, it allows for capturing more runoff from El Niño storms and greenlights more pumping during those times. The bill provides for “real-time monitoring” to aid pumping rates and avoid fish, but does not dictate how much water can be pumped out of the Delta (a previous sticking point for some). A big point of stress in this section is that it is “consistent with all environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions.”

This summary from Feinstein’s office gives more background on the breakdown of funds and the various projects involved.

“We have worked hard with state and federal technical staff and believe these provisions will place California on a long-term path to improve its water infrastructure and provide short-term improvements to water-system operations so we can store more water at the times of peak outflow during the period of the governor’s emergency drought declaration,” Feinstein said.

Top image: Jerry Brown walks down the center of the Assembly chambers to give his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature on Jan. 21, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

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