CWR comments at the Water Board’s Water Portfolio Listening Session

The State Water Resources Control Board held a listening session to receive input on the Water Portfolio.  Deirdre Des Jardins made the following comments for California Water Research on deep adaptation to extreme impacts of climate change — droughts and flooding.

Water agencies need to plan for reliability of ecosystem water during droughts. There were far too many water agencies that came before the Water Board in 2014 to request relaxation of minimum instream flow standards. This should be the last resort during droughts, and only done after implementing Stage 4 drought curtailments.  If California water agencies fail to do this, aquatic ecosystems will not survive climate change.

The Water Board also needs better funding for its core missions. In 2003, at the beginning of the state’s budget crisis, the legislature cut all general fund funding for the Water Board’s water rights division. The Legislative Analyst’s Office noted that this budget cut would increase the backlog of water rights applications.

This is now a major issue with SGMA. The solution is not for the Board to streamline water rights applications statewide, but to provide adequate funding for the Board to evaluate existing permits and instream flow needs.

Another essential need is for critical evaluation of whether climate adaptation projects will actually provide the benefits that they claim. It is being claimed that Sites Reservoir provides flood protection. But it’s an offstream reservoir. It is being claimed that the Delta tunnel will provide mitigation for sea level rise, but the performance of the North Delta intakes has never been evaluated for current estimates of high sea level rise.

The Department of Water Resources has proposed that the state provide vastly increased subsidies for water supply projects. But in adapting to climate change, the state needs to first prioritize funding for protecting vulnerable communities that do not have the resources to adapt to climate change. Their needs include not just drinking water, but also protection from inundation due to flooding or sea level rise. If we continue to fail to adequately fund flood protection, the future consequences could be disastrous.

Finally, our state patterns of land use are unsustainable. Not only do we have massive groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley, satellite mapping showed 955,000 acres on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that is moderately to severely impaired by salinity. We simply do not have the resources, either with surface water or with funding, to sustain these patterns of land use and also deal with the disruptions of climate change.

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