Evaluation of Governor’s proposed Climate Resilience Bond

This is an evaluation of the proposed Climate Resilience Bond in the Governor Newsom’s proposed 2020-2021 California Budget, and associated parts of the Newsom administration’s Draft Water Resilience Portfolio. This evaluation is done in comparison with the Principles for State Investment of Climate Adaptation, developed by California Water Research as part of the Water Portfolio Recommendations of the One Water Network of environmental organizations.

Our first principle for state investment in climate adaptation is:

  1. The first priority of the state must be increasing resiliency of the existing built environment, and protecting vulnerable populations from catastrophic effects of climate change. Catastrophic climate change effects include severe droughts, river flooding, heat waves, fires, and inundation from sea level rise.

The proposed Climate Resilience Bond does have clearly defined categories for river flooding, wildfire, sea level rise, and extreme heat. However, the biggest category is $ 1 billion for “Regional and Inter-regional Water Resilience.”  This category is vague and not clearly tied to drought resilience.

climate resilience bond

The definition of  the “Regional and Inter-regional Water Resilience” category in the Governor’s budget states:

Resilience—$1 billion to support various water management programs and projects with a focus on regional and inter-regional water projects, including but not limited to: Integrated Regional Water Management projects; multi-benefit stormwater management; wastewater treatment; water reuse and recycling; water use efficiency and water conservation; water storage; water conveyance; watershed protection, restoration, and management; and water quality. This funding specifically supports the regional resilience approach identified in the draft Water Resilience Portfolio.  (p. 122.)

But a search for “regional resilience” in the Water Resilience Portfolio does not turn up any clear definitions of the term with respect to climate adaptation. The discussion on page 16-17 simply states:

Local and regional water agencies are well positioned to deliver needed improvements to water systems. […] They work together to secure water, steward natural river systems, reduce flood, drought, and fire risks, and prepare for the future. […]

At the same time, state government plays an important role in water management. […] State government must focus on enabling regional resilience while continuing to set statewide standards, invest in projects of statewide scale and importance, and address challenges beyond the scope of any region.

Without any clear definition in the Draft Water Resilience Portfolio tying “regional resilience” to achieving drought resilience, the $1 billion proposed for “Regional and Inter-regional Water Resilience” in the Climate Adaptation Bond risks simply being an enormous taxpayer subsidy for a shotgun approach by water agencies.

The issues with multiple regional shotgun approaches may best be explained by considering the many divergent definitions of water supply reliability.  This was ably explained by Walter Bourez, Senior Water Resources Engineer for MBK Engineering, in the Delta Independent Science Board’s 2016 Water Supply Reliability Panel.  Bourez stated:

You can actually Google it and find definitely dozens and dozens of different definitions of water supply reliability,” he said. “CUWA defines it as the ability to consistently meet demands, CalFed defined it as the probability that a system does not fail, and a famous UCD professor is quoted as saying, ‘the likelihood that I can get all the water I want cheaply.”  […]

 “There are a lot of tradeoffs in the system,” he continued. “Water supply reliability in one area of the state could mean less reliability in another area. There are tradeoffs between water deliveries, Delta outflow, and environmental flows. North of Delta deliveries versus south of Delta. 

Just as there are tradeoffs between reliability of water deliveries, Delta outflow, and environmental flows, North of Delta deliveries versus South of Delta, there are conflicts and tradeoffs in definitions of drought resilience for these different regions and different beneficial uses.  The proposal in the Water Resilience Portfolio to “coordinate local actions” will not address the failure to clearly define the desired outcomes.

Our second principle for state investment in climate adaptation is,

The state must invest in increasing resiliency of ecosystems in the face of climate change.

So let’s look at investments in ecosystem resilience.  The Climate Resilience Bond does provide $140 million for freshwater ecosystems:

Enhanced Stream Flows and Fish Passage—$140 million to remove barriers to passage of native fish species and provide enhanced water flows, and reconnect aquatic habitat to help fish and wildlife endure drought and adapt to climate change.

But without tying investments in freshwater ecosystems to investments in “regional resilience,” and to clear, biological targets for enhanced flows, this investment seems unlikely to succeed. Similarly, the $270 million in the Climate Resilience Bond for “systemwide multi-benefit flood risk reduction projects” is not tied either to specific objectives for flood control, or to clear, biological targets for habitat restoration.

Flood Control: Systemwide Multi-benefit—$270 million to support multi-benefit flood risk reduction and ecosystem restoration efforts.

The lack of specific objectives for flood control is quite problematic, because there is no specific funding in the Climate Resilience Bond for investments to protect smaller communities that are increasingly vulnerable to flooding.  Without clear and specific objectives for protecting vulnerable populations, it should not be assumed that this goal will be achieved.

Our third principle for state investment in climate adaptation is,

We must recognize that demand for funding for climate adaptation measures will exceed availability.

For this reason, the Climate Resilience Bond needs to do a better job of targeting funds where they are most needed to address risks of drought, river flooding, wildfire, sea level rise, and extreme heat.  The Climate Resilience Bond should avoid “shotgun” approaches. Having separate categories for “Safe Drinking Water” and “Sustainable Groundwater Management” is a start.

Our fifth principle for state investment in climate adaptation is

We must develop clear, objective goals and priorities for state investment in climate adaptation, as well as criteria for evaluation of proposed projects. Clear and measurable targets must be set for Water Portfolio investments.

The Water Resilience Portfolio was developed over a very short period, and simply does not have enough clear, objective overall goals and priorities. Nor are there clear criteria for evaluation of proposed investments. These must be developed for the Portfolio to achieve its goals.   The Water Resilience Portfolio proposal to

Gather stakeholders from across the state each year to discuss progress implementing this portfolio and more broadly achieving water resilience across the state.  (32.2, p. 26.)

is simply not a substitute for the state setting clear, objective overall goals and priorities for climate adaptation.

Our fourth Principle for State Investment in Climate Adaptation is,

We must ensure that the best available, independent science is used to evaluate proposed state investments in climate change adaptation, to ensure that those investments truly increase climate resiliency.

There is also no proposal in the Water Resilience Portfolio for an evaluation of proposed state investments using the best available, independent science. Instead, the Portfolio proposes to:

Establish an inter-agency and public-private task force that includes diverse stakeholders to prioritize key scientific questions statewide that must be answered to better inform water managers about how to best manage water supplies and flood risk for all of California’s needs. (23.1, 24.)

While robust stakeholder engagement is a worthy goal, it should not be combined with setting priorities for key scientific questions and scientific research.  This should be done by scientists, not those who benefit from water sales or from investments in specific projects.  Determining key scientific questions should be the role of independent agency scientists at the Delta Independent Science Board and the Delta Stewardship Council,  the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee, state and federal fisheries biologists, the US Geological Survey and US Army Corps of Engineers, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, and of researchers at the University of California and California State Universities.  To do otherwise risks politicizing science used in climate adaptation planning, with potentially disastrous consequences.

One thought on “Evaluation of Governor’s proposed Climate Resilience Bond

  1. Very well said. The lack of tangible outcomes and vague definitions, while at the same time using the sexy political buzzwords, make this swing at a water supply portfolio a mushy mess and apolitical, rather than engineering and scientific exercise.

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