The California Senate has proposed a $2 billion reconciliation framework to rebalance water supply and water rights, as part of proposed investments of $7.5 billion in state and federal funds spread over three years for climate resiliency. It is the most sweeping land retirement proposal since the landmark 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act.
According to the May 10 report of the California Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection and Energy:
The proposal includes $2 billion to rebalance state water supply and water rights, including:
- $1.5 billion for new California Water Trust to acquire lands with senior water rights from willing sellers.
- $500 million to the Department of Conservation for acquisition and repurposing of lands to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
The report explains the justification for the new program:
Climate change is impacting hydrology throughout California. Prolonged drought conditions dramatically impact the viability of our fish and wildlife populations. While there are multiple stressors, the diversion of flow for agricultural and urban uses has outstripped what the ecosystem can handle.
California must consider new approaches to help us reduce water demand to improve freshwater flows, enhance habitat conditions, and provide clean drinking water. The Senate’s proposal establishes a voluntary water reconciliation program, helping to rebalance the state’s water supply and water rights system, rather than relying on the current regulatory processes that have failed to provide adequate flows for decades and do not adequately anticipate changing conditions.
The proposed water rights reconciliation framework prioritizes acquisition of water to reduce the impact of drought and to enhance stream and river conditions. The program uses multi-benefit water management strategies (e.g., protection of instream flows, sustainable groundwater management/recharge, floodplain restoration, and habitat enhancement) and integrates existing objectives in the Administration’s Water Resilience Portfolio, Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy, and the Pathways to 30×30 Report.
The Senate Water Rights Proposal contains four elements:
- Fund permanent acquisition of senior water rights in highly stressed watersheds with the water dedicated to the environment or to drinking water supplies for disadvantaged communities. This will entail purchasing land or easements that allow the land to be converted to low water use–habitat, grazing or other guaranteed reductions in water use. Includes both coastal and valley. Acquisitions prioritized based on environmental needs, maximizing benefits.
- Strengthen water rights quantification and enforcement at SWRCB. Currently the state does not have a reliable quantification of water rights or the ability to effectively enforce.
- Grants to SGMA agencies to repurpose farm lands to lower water use to balance groundwater supply and demand. This is the groundwater equivalent of the #1.
- Mitigate third party impacts. Taking land out of production creates local and regional impacts that need to be mitigated through grants.
Program Implementation. The Senate’s proposal is a voluntary program to purchase water along prioritized stream segments. Priority is given to permanent acquisitions through land purchases. The program is administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), in consultation with SWRCB and DFW. An advisory board, the California Water Trust, will be established to advise program implementation. The advisory board will include members that represent disadvantaged communities, tribes, and environmental organizations. The advisory board will approve program guidelines and priorities. The goal is to retire water use incrementally from multiple water uses in a basin and across wide geographies to help ensure that no region or area served by a water agency is disproportionately impacted. Investments in flow augmentation will be verifiable and result in measurable improvements in flow, temperature and/or water quality. Further, investments will not replace regulatory requirements. Specific program objectives include prioritizing water acquisitions that improve state and federal wildlife refuge conditions, improve instream habitat for fish, and provide clean drinking water for communities.
- $400 million for the Sacramento River and tributaries, including:
- Funding to acquire water, prioritizing additional flows to enhance habitat, land retirement, floodplain restoration, provide water for state and federal refuges, sustainable groundwater management/recharge, and conditional multi-year water lease agreements. Strong oversight and enforcement mechanisms are included to assure that water purchased with public dollars is providing public trust benefits.
- Funding to measure streamflow, including gages and other reporting devices, that improve understanding of flow conditions.
- $500 million for coastal water sheds, including:
- Funding for multi-benefit water management projects including sustainable groundwater management/recharge, floodplain restoration, and stream flow enhancement. Funding is prioritized to watersheds with an approved recovery plan. Funding may be used for short- and long-term acquisitions.
- Funding for monitoring including stream gages.
- $100 million for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, including:
- Funding for voluntary projects that create wetland habitat and improve flood protection. This program shall be designed to provide multiple benefits for ecosystem restoration, including refuge water supplies and flow enhancement actions beyond those included in Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Update. The program will use the Delta Independent Science Board to provide monitoring and oversight.
- $100 million for the San Joaquin River and tributaries, including:
- Funding for voluntary projects that create wetland habitat, floodplain restoration, sustainable groundwater management/recharge, and provide water for state and federal refuges. This program shall be designed to provide multiple benefits for ecosystem restoration, including refuge water supplies and flow enhancement actions beyond those included in Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Update.
Maestu, R. 2020. Water Rights Types by Watershed HUC6 SENIOR RIGHTS
Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, Subcommittee on Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection and Energy. 2022. May 10, 2022 Agenda. p 5-10.
U.S. Department of the Interior. 2005. Land Retirement Demonstration Project