10 Key Recommendations For California’s Drought Resilience

Though the full story of Califorinia’s drought continues to unfold, the effects are being felt across many sectors of the state, according to the Association of California Water Agencies’ (ACWA) “2014 Drought Impacts And Strategies For Resilience.” California’s $44.7 billion agricultural economy is facing significant impacts, while ripple effects are extending to everything from ports to equipment dealers to the landscape industry.

As historic dry conditions emerged in January of this year, the Association of California Water Agencies established a Drought Action Group to share information and develop recommendations to address the current drought and prepare for future dry times. The Drought Action Group, composed of 40 water community experts from throughout the state, compiled information on drought impacts around California and identified future vulnerabilities if dry conditions continue in 2015 and beyond.

This report summarizes that information as a snapshot in time and describes significant drought impacts across the areas of agriculture, wildlife protection, ecosystems, commercial industries and trade. It also identifies 2015 vulnerabilities and recommends strategies and priority actions to address this and future droughts.

Overall, the report finds the current drought has exposed key vulnerabilities in California’s water management system that must be addressed now if we are to avoid facing even more dire challenges in 10, 15 or 20 years. A variety of strategies and actions must be pursued to improve the resilience of the state’s water supply system, including investments in backbone water storage and conveyance infrastructure. These investments must be made as part of a comprehensive plan that includes expanded water conservation, water recycling, storm water capture and reuse, local and regional water storage, groundwater management and other strategies to ensure water supply reliability and ecosystem health in California.

As summer gets under way and agencies begin to prepare for 2015, the water community urges state and federal agencies to take action in partnership with local agencies to put California on a path to resilience.

Even if California receives above-average rainfall next winter, vulnerabilities exposed by this drought must be addressed. The work simply must begin today.

Following are the 10 key recommendations identified by ACWA’s Drought Action Group:

  1. State and federal agencies should facilitate construction of shovel-ready water infrastructure projects by providing funding and technical assistance as soon as possible.
  2. Consistent with ACWA’s Recommendations for Achieving Groundwater Sustainability, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) should identify ways to reduce impediments and provide funding and technical assistance for projects that create new surface and groundwater storage and improve conveyance around the state to help address the state’s groundwater challenges.
  3. State and federal agencies should continue to move toward using real-time data for operational decisions to allow for greater flexibility and efficiency in getting water to the state’s economy. Examples include using flexibility under existing law to maximize water supplies from the Delta while remaining consistent with species protection requirements; maintaining a one-to-one ratio in April and May for water transfers and exchanges involving the San Joaquin River; monitoring turbidity to allow for increased water deliveries while avoiding jeopardy to adult Delta smelt due to entrainment at state and federal pumping plants; and accelerating review of temporary barrier and operable gates to help manage salinity and improve water quality in the Delta.
  4. The state should work with stakeholders and explore opportunities to further streamline transfers including additional collaboration with the federal government and a careful review of the recent report from the Streamline Our Agency Regulations (SOAR) Water Transfers Action Team.
  5. The state should facilitate and/or expedite regulations or permitting processes that encourage innovative technologies including water recycling and desalination.
  6. The state should work with local agencies to review opportunities for more closely coordinating planning documents in drought conditions. The state also should facilitate long-term solutions for agencies that indicate sustainability concerns in the applicable water management plans.
  7. The state and federal government should provide funding and technical support in partnership with local agencies to develop long-term water infrastructure projects that will help ensure reliable water supplies for both the economy and the environment.
  8. The state and federal government should disburse funding approved through state drought emergency legislation passed earlier this year and other federal programs so projects can move forward and assist impacted communities. The state and federal government also should work to ensure additional funding is available, including through a 2014 water bond, for projects and programs that will improve California’s aging water infrastructure and further the coequal goals.
  9. The state should acknowledge that local water systems are best equipped to determine which water conservation programs are most effective for their customers. In addition, the state should provide funding for water use efficiency activities in disadvantaged communities and support programs that are not locally cost effective but contribute broad benefits to California.
  10. The state should review its overall 2014 drought response and look for opportunities to improve coordination in future dry conditions or other extreme weather events.
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