Speakers discuss factors affecting water supplies


Issue Date: March 18, 2015
By Kate Campbell

Facing uncertain times for the state's water supply, a state natural-resources official told Farm Bureau leaders that it's important to manage through the current drought while at the same time planning for a future water supply system that will withstand longer or more frequent droughts.

Karla Nemeth, deputy secretary for water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency, said that effort will require a solid plan and partnering with organizations such as the California Farm Bureau Federation, which she said has demonstrated both endurance and agility.

Jay Ziegler of the Nature Conservancy also addressed Farm Bureau leaders about the need to find common ground in groundwater management plans, as part of the annual Farm Bureau Leadership Conference in Sacramento last week.

The challenge California faces, the speakers said, includes the need to implement new state water initiatives and laws, such as passage of the Proposition 1 water bond, which approved $7.5 billion for water storage and other water projects, and recently passed groundwater legislation that will be implemented in coming years.

"We're facing an immediate (drought) crisis while needing to continue to invest in the future, hoping the reservoirs will fill again," Nemeth said. "But this is not a single-fix problem."

Responding to immediate drought-related problems and planning for the future are "all connected," but she warned that an eventual return to full reservoirs would mean public attention to the state's water supply and delivery system would wane, and suggested that current short supplies may serve as impetus for making necessary changes and additions to the existing water system.

When asked about investment strategies, Nemeth said, "We need to invest in all the options," including surface storage, noting officials expect the $7.5 billion water bond to gain added federal support of about $28 billion to tackle the state's water system needs.

She said state and federal management of California's water supply is "as intense as it has ever been, with real-time decision making, because no way will there be enough water to fully meet all needs."

A key part of the newly adopted groundwater-management legislation, she said, is the tenet that "locals can do it best." The new laws will help local agencies achieve management plans and, to help with local planning efforts, she said there's $100 million in planning money in the water bond.

"DWR has a key role in establishing the new groundwater regulations and they will be encouraging Farm Bureau to get involved," Nemeth said (see related story).

Ziegler said the Nature Conservancy has partnered with Farm Bureau members in projects across California and said TNC is looking forward to working with farmers during implementation of the new groundwater regulations.

"We've got a lot of work to do in rethinking how we manage water as an integrated resource—surface water and groundwater managed together," he said.

When questioned about the need for more surface water storage, Ziegler said his organization favors "re-imagining" dams as facilities that help recharge groundwater basins.

"I don't want to communicate that I'm against storage," Zeigler said. "In fact, I'm emphatically for storage. But, we're going to get more out of that storage if we rethink it as conjunctive-use projects, as a way to put more water in the ground."

He said he expects there will be surface storage projects and that thought needs to be given to what kind of surface storage makes the most sense in an era of climate change.

"We're willing to say that and we're willing to work with you to figure it out," he said.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.