Implementation of the Agricultural Water Management Planning Act: A Review of Agricultural Water Management Plans

Seventy Percent of Legally Required Agricultural Water Management Plans Not Submitted

Published: August 29, 2013
Authors: Claire O’Connor – NRDC and Juliet Christian-Smith – Pacific Institute

Twenty-four of California’s agricultural water districts have submitted agricultural water management plans, leaving 55 districts out of compliance with the requirement of the Water Conservation Act of 2009, according to a new joint analysis issued today by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Institute. This represents a 30% compliance rate, meaning there is much work to be done to ensure sustainable water management for the state.

“California is a dry state, expected to only get drier, yet we’re also the leading agricultural state in the nation,” said Claire O’Connor, agricultural water specialist for NRDC. “It’s critical that agricultural water suppliers lead the way in planning for a drier future and encourage customers to be smarter about their water use.”

Implementation of the Agricultural Water Management Planning Act: A Review of Agricultural Water Management Plans offers recommendations for those 55 water districts to participate in and comply with future legally required planning cycles, including: 1) California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) should offer peer-to-peer workshops to assist districts with the planning process; 2) DWR should create an online clearinghouse of plans and draft plans to facilitate public comment; and 3) DWR should hold non-compliant districts accountable, and, per the Act’s mandate, refuse to consider grant and loan requests until districts submit a plan.

“When water suppliers prepare plans, the public and other stakeholders can participate in important decisions, like how water efficiency measures should be implemented,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Pacific Institute. “Fortunately, we do have some good actors who are leading the way – they are setting the standard for other water districts to follow.”

For example, the analysis highlights exemplary plans and activities, such as:

  • Turlock Irrigation District in Stanislaus County is utilizing approximately 5,200 acre feet of recycled water every year, freeing up traditional water resources for other beneficial uses. Turlock receives their recycled water from the City of Turlock, the City of Modesto and Hilman Cheese Factory.
  • Reclamation District 108 in Colusa County is phasing in new water measurement devices to allow them to accurately measure the amount of water they deliver to their customers, as required by the Water Conservation Act. Surprisingly, many districts do not measure the amount of water they deliver to their customers. By knowing precisely how much water they are delivering, RD 108 will be able to provide their customers with enhanced feedback about how efficiency could be improved.
  • Alta Irrigation District in Tulare County has been charging their customers based on the amount of water they receive for over a decade. Many other districts currently charge either by the acre or by the number of times a grower irrigates during a growing season, even though the Water Conservation Act requires them to begin charging at least in part by volume. By pricing water volumetrically, Alta is providing its customers an incentive to become more efficient.

At the end of 2009, the California Senate passed a slate of water-related bills designed to improve water efficiency across the state. The Water Conservation Act of 2009 (SB X7-7) applies to water suppliers with at least 25,000 irrigated acres and required agricultural water suppliers to submit an agricultural water management plan by the end of 2012.

Agricultural water district water management plans for the 24 districts can be found at: http://www.water.ca.gov/wateruseefficiency/sb7/docs/2012_AWMPs_Received_07-16-2013.pdf

Download the report (PDF).