The State Legislature and Water Agencies Anticipated the State Water Board’s Conclusions

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Last week, the State Water Board released a draft report presenting their scientific conclusions regarding the amount of water required to restore a healthy San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem.  The draft report, discussed here, clearly reveals that we have, in recent years, diverted more water from this ecosystem than is environmentally sustainable.  That conclusion is not news to California’s salmon fishermen or the scientific community.  But many others have quietly seen this conclusion coming as well.

Some in the media weren’t surprised by the draft report, as this editorial reveals in the Silicon Valley Mercury News.

The board’s draft report is also hardly a surprise to the State legislature, which ordered the Board to complete this analysis in the water reform package passed at the end of 2009.  That package included a new state policy to “reduce reliance on the Delta in meeting California’s future water supply needs through a statewide strategy of investing in improved regional supplies.”  The legislature also included an ambitious provision designed to spark this increased investment in regional supplies – a requirement that urban water users reduce per-capita use 20 percent by 2020.  It sure looks to us that the legislature saw this conclusion coming.

In fact, the extent of quiet recognition of this problem is far broader than a fractious public debate might suggest.  Many urban water interests, particularly in Southern California, are determined to increase their investments in local supplies that will make them less dependent on the Delta.  The City of Los Angeles, for example, wrote a plan two years ago, showing how they can meet the needs of future growth through water conservation, urban stormwater capture, wastewater recycling and groundwater management – four tools that NRDC calls the Virtual River.  That same year, the Southern California Leadership Council wrote a very similar plan.  These interests seem to have seen the Board’s conclusion coming as well.

For half a century, the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project steadily increased diversions from the Delta, reaching record levels several years ago.  It is common — but incorrect — wisdom that Southern California water interests and environmentalists disagree about just about everything related to water.  But the truth is that today, it’s hard to find a retail water agency in Southern California that believes that this 50 year trend of increased diversions is going to continue.  When they’re planning for the future of their communities, those agencies clearly believe that investing in local supplies is a smarter strategy than gambling on another increase in diversions from the Delta. 

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