PCL Insider – March 2022

Facing California’s Once-In-A-Generation Water Crisis

2022 is shaping up to be another harsh year for California’s water supplies. With 87% of California’s counties in severe drought, experts expect widespread shortages of water, loss of arable land, and an increased risk of fires. Nearly all Californians will be affected by the drought and if nothing is done, some areas of California will run out of water this summer.

Knowing the urgent and desperate condition of our state’s water resources, PCL is focused on developing ideas to make our current water system drought resistant and adaptable to the looming concern of climate change. Over the past year, PCL has been meeting with a group of water experts to brainstorm ideas on what reforms California needs to make to address this emergency. Our group released 11 possible recommendations, designed to meet California’s water needs for the 21st Century, during PCL’s Assembly webinar on Updating California Water Laws to Address Drought and Climate Change. The full report can be viewed here.

PCL understands that making recommendations without action won’t help the average Californian during this drought so we’ve also worked hard to sponsor two bills based on the proposed recommendations to the state legislature and are working to incorporate the rest as future amendments or as part of the budget process. Our goal is to work closely with our allies to introduce these much-needed reforms to improve agency response to the drought emergency.

PCL is working closely with Senator Ben Allen’s office on a bill that would ensure that climate change impacts are considered when making agency decisions regarding water availability. Currently, the State Water Board is required to prepare a Water Availability Analysis (WAA) to determine how much water is available for appropriation. The Analysis is required to review historical data of past water availability and estimate how much water will be available in the future. However, with climate change becoming more intense each year, it is no longer feasible to use historical data to estimate future availability. Thus, PCL is sponsoring Senate Bill 1205 to require the State Water Board to consider climate change impacts on hydrology when developing the Water Availability Analysis. 

PCL is also sponsoring Assembly Bill 2639 focused on protecting the waters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta watershed. Under the Clean Water Act, the State Water Board is required to develop and implement a Water Quality Control Plan once every few years. This Plan is used to determine how much water is available in the watershed, which then calculates how much is available for diversion and how much is left for the environment. However, the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan has not been significantly updated since 1995. For years, water diverters have stalled the process by saying they will develop “voluntary agreements” for the management of the watershed. Unfortunately, these “agreements” would put the needs of the water users before anything else, meaning that the environmental consideration would come last on the priority list for water usage.

Assembly Bill 2639 would require the State Water Board to complete the update for the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Board by December 31, 2023. This date was taken from a State Water Board hearing where they announced their ability to meet that deadline. If the Water Board fails to meet this deadline, they would be prohibited from approving any new permits or extensions in the Bay-Delta Watershed resulting in new or increased diversions to surface water storage from the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River watershed until the board has updated the Plan.

Additionally, PCL is working with its allies at the California Coastkeeper Alliance in support of Assembly Bill 2108 which would create more environmental justice representation at the agency level. Specifically, this bill would require the State and Regional Water Resources Board to have one member with an environmental justice background as it relates to water availability and water quality.

PCL is also continuously involved in stopping bad water bills or initiatives from reaching the Governor’s desk or the ballot. We were instrumental in stopping the More Water Now initiative which PCL and our allies demonstrated would go mostly towards funding more dams and other wasteful water projects that would harm the aquatic ecology and generate more revenue for powerful special interests.

PCL is joining forces to stop another terrible bill from reaching the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 1219 would dissolve the State Water Resources Control Board by 2025. The bill would transfer all of the responsibilities of the State Board to the Department of Water Resources. PCL and our allies believe this bill will adversely impact water management in California as it would make the Department of Water Resources the sole water agency, resulting in conflicts of interest, loss of funding and staff resources, and undermining public participation in agency decisions. The bill also proposes to create a Blue Ribbon Task Force to update California’s water governance, yet it is limited to changes to the water agency structure without addressing the need to rethink our current unsustainable water right system. This bill would be a tremendous loss to the steps California has taken forward to improve its water management and PCL is committed to preventing this bill from becoming reality.

PCL understands that the way California manages water is broken, so this year we’ve spent countless hours working tirelessly to fix it. Over the next year, PCL plans to dive deeper into Califonia’s water policy, which means more intensive research, discussions with experts, policy recommendations, and work at the Capitol to promote legislation. However, we can’t do it without your support. Donate today to support PCL in promoting sustainable and modernized water policy for Californians!