WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2016 - During the drought, California has survived largely on water collected in reservoirs from Sierra Nevada snow and rain in the fall and winter, and here’s where that measure stands: Statewide reservoirs are at 80 percent of average water level, compared with 53 percent a year ago.
That said, California faces mountainous hurdles to ensure adequate water for urban, industrial, farm and wildlife uses in the long term. Gov. Jerry Brown’s statewide order for 25 percent water conservation, mandated last year, is losing steam. Meanwhile, Brown is pressing the California Legislature to proceed with his costly ($16 billion), complex and contentious plan to install two huge tunnels to transport water from the estuary, called the delta area, of the state’s two principal rivers – Sacramento and San Joaquin – to Southern California.
But Brown’s plan may be politically derailed on Nov. 8, when Californians vote on any future state issuance of more than $2 billion in revenue bonds. What’s more, the State Water Resources Control Board (WRCB) has drafted a plan that would increase flows for endangered fish species in three San Joaquin River tributaries - reducing water held in reservoirs for farm and city use.
Danny Merkley, director of water resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation, says of the tunnels project: “I commend the governor for trying to fix the plumbing problem we have.” But, he says, “I represent a general farm organization with members statewide, [and] there are very different opinions about that, whether it is our members in the delta area or . . . in Northern California or . . . in Southern California or in the San Joaquin Valley.” In the delta area, farmers want sufficient flow to prevent intrusion of ocean salt water into the estuary; northern farmers oppose loss of more water transported south; and whatever is done must deliver affordable water for the southern farmers who will end up paying for that additional water.
Meanwhile, farmers do see a ray of light in some upcoming water supply improvements to be funded with the $2 billion bond issuance approved by voters two years ago. “It is a small down payment on new water infrastructure,” Merkley says. The state plan for water handling and storage projects to be funded by the bonds is to be proposed in two months, and farmers are holding their breaths, hoping for farm-friendly proposals, he say.
Also, note this stab at improved water savings. CDFA and the Department of Water Resources are jointly launching a new program with $6 million for grants, called the Agricultural Water Use Efficiency and State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program. Water suppliers and agricultural operations can win the grants for projects to improve efficiency of agricultural water use and water conveyance systems.
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