Newsom Reveals A Long-term Plan To Make Sure California Has Enough Water

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced today a wide-ranging plan to improve the state’s water supply. The plan includes goals to recycle more water, increase the amount of water that can be stored in reservoirs, and get more information about how much water farmers use.

Newsom said that California needs new plans because climate change will make the state warmer and drier, which will reduce the amount of water available by 10%.

The plan, on the other hand, has few details, vague deadlines, and no requirement to save water.

It also doesn’t include any big changes to how agriculture uses water. In California, agriculture uses about four times as much water as people in cities.

The plan could include grants for fields that aren’t being used and programs to keep track of how much surface water growers use. It also brings up the idea of rules that would stop growers from pumping water from rivers and streams outside of drought emergencies.

The new report says that the state’s complicated and old water rights system, which has been in place since the Gold Rush, needs to be changed. Anthony York, the governor’s spokesman, told CalMatters that Newsom will focus on this issue. “That means a lot for agriculture.”

Even though the state is still in a drought, the governor’s plans won’t increase the amount of water available to cities and farms any time soon: For example, it says that by 2030, we should recycle 800,000 acre-feet of water, which is 8% more than we did in 2020. The goal goes up to 1.8 million acre-feet in 2040.

Read More:

The drought is not something that will end soon. It’s the new way things are. “Our climate has changed, so we can’t save our way out of this,” York said.

In the 19-page document released today, the Newsom administration outlined plans, such as increasing the amount of recycled water and the amount of water that can be stored in both reservoirs and the ground. Among them are:

  • Desalinating 28,000 acre-feet of brackish water every year by 2030 and 84,000 acre-feet every year by 2040. About three Southern California homes can use one-acre foot of water for a year.
  • Increasing the amount of water that can be stored in reservoirs and the ground by about 4 million acre-feet. This can be done by recharging the groundwater, collecting stormwater, finishing storage projects, and expanding or fixing up existing reservoirs and dams.
  • By 2018, “in ways that make sense in each region,” water efficiency standards for homes and businesses will have to be finalized.
  • The government is thinking about rules or other ways to “simplify and update the water rights system, clarify senior water rights, and set more fair fees.”

One of the most important parts of the strategy is speeding up the approval process for a wide range of projects, such as groundwater recharge and desalination. At the briefing, Newsom complained about the “regulatory thickets” that were slowing down these efforts. He promised to work with the Legislature in its last weeks of session to “help us fast track these projects.”

“It’s crazy how long it takes to finish these projects. It’s crazy. “It’s pretty funny,” Newsom said.

Recently, Newsom took steps to make it easier for renewable energy projects to get permits. This was a controversial move that lawmakers called “rushed” and “lousy.”

The report also talked about the controversial state plan to build a tunnel to fix the plumbing in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and pump more water south. During his talk with Newsom today, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe was critical of the tunnel plan, but he said he supported the rest of the administration’s water plan.

During the briefing, Newsom was asked about crazy ideas like using container ships to bring water from Canada and the Pacific Northwest. He said, “I promise you, we have some more creative ones that are more interesting.” But that can wait.”

A news release says that the strategies released today were already “broadly identified” in the state’s Water Resilience Portfolio. However, “given the urgency of climate-driven changes,” they will now be pushed forward faster.

Peter Gleick, co-founder and senior fellow at The Pacific Institute, a global water think tank, liked the news, but he also pointed out that it had some problems.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom tours the site where the City of Antioch Brakish Water Desalination Project is being built in Antioch on Aug. 11, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

“Many of the things in this strategy are important, and many of them need to be done. All of them should be done more quickly. “There are some holes,” said Gleick. “There’s not much in here about farming… a hard challenge because the government doesn’t have as many knobs and levers to turn and twist here.”

For people who live in cities, Newsom hasn’t done what former Gov. Jerry Brown did, which was to put a statewide conservation law in place. So far, Newsom has preferred to let local water agencies handle the details. He has called this a “mandate of local mandates.”

Today, Newsom said that his approach was based on a thorough look at what was learned from the last drought. “One of the most important things that report said was not to use a one-size-fits-all approach,” Newsom said. He said he had met with leaders of water agencies twice to tell them, “You have to do more to save water, or we will make these rules for the whole state.”

But the amount of water used hasn’t gone down much because of what he did on his own. The number of people living in cities dropped by about 7.6% in June compared to two years ago, but only 2.7% from July 2018 to July 2020.

Today’s press conference is being held in front of an under-construction brackish-water desalination plant in Antioch. This comes after a poll showed that more than two-thirds of adults in California said that the state and local governments need to do more to fight the current drought.

Newsom’s announcement comes after a high-profile California water official quit and criticised the administration for “almost destroying” the state water board’s “ability to take on big challenges.”

In the last weeks of the session, Newsom asked the Legislature to “simplify processes so projects can be planned, approved, and built faster while protecting the environment.”

Read More: