Some Good News for California's Water Supply and Environment

Even though it hasn't rained in the past couple of days, the past couple days have seen some good news for farmers, urban water agencies and the environment.  It's a welcome change from the parade of bad news about water allocations and the closure of the salmon fishery again this year. 

On Wednesday, the Secretary of the Interior held a joint press conference with the Governor and several Congressional and State legislative leaders to announce new Stimulus funding for important projects that will benefit farmers, consumers, fishermen, and the environment. 

The Stimulus announcement includes funding for many projects that NRDC, working with agricultural water districts and other water agencies, strongly supported, including: 

  • Installation of a pumping plant on the Sacramento River to allow the Red Bluff Diversion Dam to be operated year round with the "gates out," so that sturgeon and salmon can safely migrate year round without impacting the ability of farmers to divert water.  This win-win solution protects fish, farmers, and fishermen, as we stated in a joint press release with the farmers from TCCA and fishermen from the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
  • $135M for water recycling and reuse projects across California.  The Bureau of Reclamation, best known for operating dams and water projects like the Central Valley Project (CVP), also has a program to work with local communities to develop water recycling projects.  These grants will help create drought proof water supplies for local communities in California, part of what we call the "Virtual River."  As much as 400,000 acre feet of water each year - enough for several million people - could ultimately come from existing projects, let alone the new projects authorized in the Omnibus Public Lands bill.   The Secretary's press release acknowledges California's leadership in the development of these water recycling projects.
  • Restoration of Battle Creek, which should help restore salmon populations and the thousands of jobs that healthy salmon fisheries sustain.

The stimulus funding also includes money for other water supply projects and some drought relief.  While it won't solve all of our problems this year, these shovel ready projects will help make a difference - for people and for the environment - in the near future.  And the announcement also shows that when we - farmers, fishermen, environmentalists, urbans, and industry - work together, we can help improve our water supply and our environment.

And that's only the beginning of the Stimulus money for California water: the State Water Resources Control Board will be distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and low interest loans for wastewater treatment plants, water recycling projects, and other water quality and water supply projects across California.  Twenty percent of this funding will be dedicated to green infrastructure and efficiency projects, all of which are shovel ready and will help create jobs and protect our environment.

And in other good news, thanks to the rain and snow in March and early April, the State announced that it would be able to deliver more water from the State Water Project this year.  While three dry years will limit deliveries, the State Water Project expects to deliver more than 1.2 million acre feet of water this year, increasing the allocation from 20 to 30 percent. 

As I noted in a recent blog post, the CVP will deliver several million acre feet of water to farmers in the Sacramento and Central Valleys, although some farmers, particularly those on the Westside of the Central Valley, are scheduled to get no allocation.  Thanks to the March and April precipitation, we've also heard rumors that the Bureau of Reclamation may announce next week that the CVP can deliver more water to farms in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.   

But despite increased allocations, there still will be supply shortages around the State, and all of us need to use water wisely and conserve as much as possible. Even if your local agency doesn't make you conserve, I hope you'll do your part to save water this year so there is more for our neighbors, our farmers, and our environment.

And I continue to hope that the state and Federal government will provide disaster relief to displaced farmworkers, just as the federal government has done for the salmon fishermen put out of work from the collapse of the salmon fishery. We really should help these farmerworkers get through this difficult year.