This Water and Drought package of the California Senate’s Climate Budget Plan proposes major investment in water management science. One of the goals is to:
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.
The budget plan includes the following appropriation.
$100 million to improve water management science and agency coordination, including:
- Funding to improve scientific evaluation and information sharing between SWRCB, DFW, the California Water Commission, the Delta Independent Science Board, and the Department of Water Resources (DWR).
- Funding to SWRCB, DFW, and WCB for program implementation, and to establish a statewide environmental water master program.
In 2019, Nell Green Nylen at the UC Berkeley Center for Law and the Environment published Actions to Improve California Water Rights Administration and Oversight for Future Droughts. This was the third recommendation:
- Improve the information that informs drought decisions.
Information provides critical context for water decision making. For the Board, this includes data regarding water supply, water diversion and use, water rights, and ecological considerations. To ensure that water users exercise their rights appropriately in times of shortage, the Board needs to understand how much water is available for diversion from a particular waterway under a particular water right. As I mentioned in my last post, the mere fact that water is present at a water user’s point of diversion isn’t enough. Instead, determining legal water availability involves comparing water supply and demand in the context of water rights and other legal priorities. The Board has faced ongoing challenges obtaining adequate information about all four. Fortunately, some types of data have seen significant improvements in recent years. In particular, the Board has acquired or developed new tools for getting more timely, accurate, and complete information about surface water diversions. By contrast, in most areas, information about watershed supply and diverters’ net water use (for example, from networks of stream gages) remains too imprecise and inaccurate to support real-time water management.
As an example of needs, the Water Board is currently using a watershed scale model for drought curtailments because the Board lacks the technical capability to consider individual diversions. The Water Board’s Order WR 2022-0147-EXEC states:
Curtailments were based on the Water Unavailability Methodology, which uses the watershed scale (Hydrologic Unit Code level 4) and subwatershed scale (Hydrologic Unit Code level 8 or 10), consistent with the regulation. Evaluation of water unavailability at finer resolutions than this is not feasible due to the lack of full natural flow data to support higher resolution curtailments, because a modeling tool does not currently exist that can evaluate water unavailability at a finer scale, and because such a tool would require significant time to develop.
Clearly the Water Board has a need for better watershed modeling for drought management.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife also needs funds for drought management. As explained in our blog post, Climate Change and Instream Flows, for the past four decades, DFW has lacked funds to do studies of minimum streamflow needed to protect aquatic and stream-dependent life, originally mandated in 1982 (Pub. Res. Code sections 10001-2.)
The Delta Independent Science Board could also use additional funds. In February 2019, the Delta ISB proposed a Science Needs Assessment to address rapid climate change. They sent a letter stating in part:
The major state, federal, and local agencies and users involved in science for the Delta, along with major non-agency Delta and estuary specialists, should develop a comprehensive scientific needs assessment based on fundamental system-wide scientific and management challenges facing the Delta. This could be accomplished with the commission of a task force of leading scientists from inside and outside the Delta system to identify 1) future Delta conditions and fundamental driving forces, and 2) science needs to forecast/predict how the Delta might change under these conditions. Stakeholder engagement also must be an important component of this effort. The Delta Independent Science Board can help to organize and implement the framework for the scientific needs assessment.
Given the accelerating impacts of climate change, this is a critically important initiative for management of the Delta. Yet the Delta Independent Science Board has not gotten funding to help organize and implement the framework for the Science Needs Assessment. Nor has there been funding to commission “a task force of leading scientists from inside and outside the Delta system” to provide input.
These needs for the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Delta Independent Science Board to improve water management science are all critically important for climate adaptation, and should get funding.
Delta Independent Science Board. 2019. Letter: Urgency & Opportunities for Improving Delta Interagency Science & Technical Integration. February 11, 2019.
Des Jardins, D. 2019. Climate Change and Instream Flows, California Water Research Blog, October 14, 2019.
Nylen, N. G. 2019. Actions to Improve California Water Rights Administration and Oversight for Future Droughts. Legal Planet. March 29, 2019.
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.
State Water Resources Control Board. 2022. Order WR 2022-0147-EXEC In the Matter of the Petitions for Reconsideration of the Adoption of the August 2021 Emergency Curtailment and Reporting Regulation for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Watershed… and of the August 2021 Curtailment and Reporting Orders.. Order Denying Reconsideration.