[env-trinity] Barry Nelson NRDC: California's Five New Water Bills

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Aug 10 16:51:55 PDT 2009

A Rare Opportunity for Change: California's Five New Water Bills

A Rare Opportunity for Change: California's Five New Water Bills

Barry Nelson

Western Water Project Director, San Francisco 

Blog <http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/bnelson/>  | About

Posted August 10, 2009 in Health
<http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/issues/health_and_the_environment/>  and
the Environment , Solving
<http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/issues/solving_global_warming/>  Global

I have been working on California water issues for 25 years, and I've
learned that major opportunities for transformative change doesn't come
around too often. Now is one of those times.

Late last week, the California Legislature released
01722.story?track=rss>  a package of five major water reform bills (find
links to each bill here
islation-in-california/> ).  Like many others who work on water issues, I'm
still combing through them. But I can already sense that this is an
opportunity to lift California out of our current water crisis and into an
economically and environmentally sustainable future.

Why is this happening now? For starters, the state finally has a budget, and
lawmakers are turning to other pressing issues. What is interesting is that
water has now risen to the top two or three priorities of our legislature.

Three things are driving this new sense of urgency:

*                     California has had three consecutive dry years.

*                     Californians have a growing awareness that global
warming is threatening our fragile water resources. Sea level rise threatens
the Delta and the prospect of reduced runoff and more severe droughts is
expected to reduce existing supplies. 

*                     The San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem has cratered and
our salmon fishery has been closed. We have clearly reached the limit on how
much we can take from it--the largest single source of water in California. 

Today, it's a challenge to find anyone who believes that the course of
California water policy over the past decade will be sustainable in the
future.  This emerging reality has prompted some high-level reaction. In
September of 2006, the governor and the legislature commissioned the Delta
Vision Task Force to write an ambitious new plan for the future of the
Delta.  That plan
l.pdf>  was completed and submitted to the legislature in December of 2007.
In February of 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger also announced that he wants
California to decrease per capita water use 20 percent by 2020.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President pro Tem Darrel Steinberg
responded to these developments by convening a small legislative working
group. After lengthy discussions within that group, Bass and Steinberg
released a package of five heavily amended water bills. The package includes
cost-effective measures for conserving and using California's water more
efficiently in order to achieve the governor's water conservation goal.
NRDC and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California are
co-sponsoring this legislation, which is being carried by Assemblymembers
Mike Feuer and Jared Huffman. 

The package also takes the bold and much-needed step of proposing major
reforms to the state's water agencies. The Delta Vision Task Force concluded
that "governance reform" is required to resolve issues in the Delta because
the California's current fractured and antiquated agencies are simply not up
to the job. The bills would create a new Stewardship Council to manage the
Delta, require the development of a comprehensive Delta plan to address
ecosystem, water supply and flood management issues, establish a new Delta
Conservancy to implement restoration projects, and strengthen the powers of
the Delta Protection Commission to regulate inappropriate land use in the

As I study the bills more closely, I'll have more detailed recommendations
for improvements. But I welcome this opportunity for reform.

You see, we really can change the way water management works in California.
I have seen it before, although not on such a sweeping scale. Back in 1992,
Congress passed the

Central Valley Project Improvement Act to make the project more responsive
to the environmental and economic needs of the state.

The CVPIA changed the landscape pretty substantially. Prior to the law, the
Bureau of Reclamation claimed it did not have the authority to protect
endangered species. Now we have two new federal biological opinions
requiring the CVP to protect Delta species listed under the ESA (see my
colleague Doug Obegi's post about this here
l> ). Today, no one at the Bureau questions the need to protect these
vanishing species. The law was also designed to promote water transfers.
Today, there is a thriving water transfer system among agricultural water
agencies south of the Delta.

The package of five bills before the legislature has the potential to have
an even bigger impact - but on a broader set of water issues.

AB 49, for example, could make water conservation strategies--things like
smart irrigation controllers-- business as usual. And all Californians would
benefit from agency reform that allowed the
resolution of difficult Delta issues.

These times don't come around too often. I hope our lawmakers seize the



Byron Leydecker, JcT, Chair

Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 

415 519 4810 cell

bwl3 at comcast.net

bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org



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