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Complicated, but Significant Positive News on the Water Front

With the imminent threat of losing hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of stored water to the ocean, Governor Newsom on Monday issued an Emergency Order seeking to stop that from happening. In his State of Emergency Proclamation, the Governor ordered the State Water Board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases. The proclamation also suspended some provisions of the Water Code to make this possible. Later in the day on Monday, the Department of Water Resources, together with the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, filed a Temporary Urgency Change Petition (TUCP) with the State Water Board to get relief from the ocean outflow requirement. Despite the order from the Governor, the five governor-appointed State Water Board members have the power to grant, modify or deny the petition. It is very encouraging to see the Governor use his considerable emergency powers in an effort to do something significant for water supply, but we need the State Water Board to follow through by granting the petition.

There is of course, opposition to this move by the radical environmentalists. Reading their statements can be infuriating. John McManus of the Golden State Salmon Association paints this as the Governor doing the bidding of wealthy ag interests against the interests of salmon fishermen. First off, some of this water is being preserved so there will be cold water later this year to help salmon smolts during spawning season. Second, the saved water will help millions of Californians who depend on these supplies to sustain their lives. Third, some will go to agriculture, but there are thousands of farmers who need the water, not just a few wealthy ones. Finally, I find great irony in salmon fishermen – who kill fish on purpose – criticizing water policies that seek to balance the environment and water supply for people.

The Governor’s proclamation also made an important modification to a provision in a previous water emergency order. The March 2022 order instructed the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board to maximize the extent to which winter precipitation recharges underground aquifers. This new order adds the Department of Fish and Wildlife to the instruction to collaborate on expediting the permitting of recharge. This is an important addition. The Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations can be a severe barrier to keeping channels maintained and facilitating the recharge of wet winter flows into the ground. The Governor seems to recognize that and is taking steps to address this issue.

Dairy Cares yesterday submitted a letter to the Governor and key agency staff, imploring his administration to work with federal regulators to find creative and flexible solutions to store future available supplies of water. The letter also supports the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley’s proposed resiliency projects. You can read the letter here.

And finally, I’d like to highlight an article about California water published today in National Review, which was written by Ed Ring. I got know Ed through the More Water Now initiative process, which he headed up. He is one of the most insightful observers and thoughtful leaders when it comes to water policy in California and he demonstrates it in his article, “How California Can Solve the Colorado Water Deficit.”

“The reason the government subsidized water projects during the great waves of dam and aqueduct construction in the 1930s and again in the 1950s and ’60s is because affordable and abundant water lowers the overall cost of living and doin

g business. It lowers the cost of food. It lowers the cost of housing. It lowers utility bills. This is an economic ripple effect that has no rival. Affordable and abundant water is a core enabler of economic prosperity.” – Ed Ring

I strongly recommend you give this article a read, which you can find here.

Geoff Vanden Heuvel

Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs

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