July 29, 2020
 

By Cora Kammeyer

In January 2020, California state agencies released a draft document meant to signify a new chapter in California water. Now, six months later and after extensive public consultation, the final draft of the Water Resilience Portfolio has arrived.

The Portfolio was developed in response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order (N-10-19), which calls for a comprehensive strategy to build a climate-resilient water system in California for the 21st century. This strategy includes several ambitious actions, such as ensuring all communities have access to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water and utilizing natural infrastructure and approaches that provide multiple benefits. The Portfolio was a collaborative effort, compiled through an interagency working group with input from communities and leaders across the state.

What’s in the Portfolio?

Below is a short summary of the 32 recommendations put forth in the final Water Resilience Portfolio. The full document can be found at waterresilience.ca.gov.

The Portfolio is divided into four broad approaches: maintain and diversify water supplies; protect and enhance natural systems; build connections; and be prepared. Under each approach, recommendations and actions for achieving those recommendations are provided. A final section outlines a plan for executing the Portfolio.

Maintain and Diversify Water Supplies

  1. Help local water agencies achieve reliable access to safe and affordable water.
  2. Drive greater efficiency of water use in all sectors.
  3. Help regions secure groundwater supplies by supporting the transition to sustainable use.
  4. Support local and regional agencies to recycle or reuse at least 2.5 million acre-feet a year in the next decade.
  5. Support cities and counties to make stormwater capture a growing share of their supply.
  6. Consider use of desalination technology where it is cost effective and environmentally appropriate.
  7. Expand smart surface water storage where it can benefit water supply and the environment.

Protect and Enhance Natural Systems

  1. Protect and restore water quality by driving pollution reduction from a range of sources.
  2. Help regions better protect fish and wildlife by quantifying the timing, quality, and volume of flows they need.
  3. Reconnect aquatic habitat to help fish and wildlife endure drought and adapt to climate change.
  4. Support the expansion of wetlands, including mountain meadows, to create habitat, filter runoff, buffer floods, and recharge groundwater.
  5. Curb invasive species altering California waterways.
  6. Align and improve permitting to help launch and incentivize more restoration, multi-benefit, and multi-partner projects.
  7. Upgrade and maintain state wildlife refuges, hatcheries, and restoration
  8. Encourage investment in upper watersheds to protect water quality and supply.
  9. Improve soil health and conservation practices on California farms and ranches.
  10. Minimize air pollution and restore habitat at the Salton Sea.
  11. Help protect the economic and ecological vitality of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Build Connections

  1. Modernize inter-regional conveyance to help regions capture, store, and move water.
  2. Support groups and leaders in each of the state’s regions to develop and execute integrated resilience strategies.
  3. Ease movement of water across the state by simplifying water transfers.
  4. Modernize water data systems to inform real-time water management decisions and long-term planning.
  5. Coordinate science crucial to water management.
  6. Foster innovation and technology adoption across all water sectors.

Be Prepared

  1. Help regions prepare for new flood patterns.
  2. Help regions prepare for inevitable drought.
  3. Improve the ability of regions to anticipate weather and climate changes.

Executing This Portfolio

  1. Institutionalize better coordination across state agencies.
  2. Partner with key non-state partners to improve coordination and alignment.
  3. Unify to pursue federal funding and cooperation.
  4. Actively integrate water resilience portfolio actions in other Administration efforts to build climate resilience.
  5. Track and report publicly on progress toward implementing the water resilience portfolio.

What’s Missing?

The Pacific Institute has long analyzed and communicated the links between water, energy, and climate and strongly supports the state’s efforts to advance water resilience in the face of climate change. This Portfolio is a step in the right direction, but there are still gaps that must be addressed. Below, we highlight five critical actions for advancing water resilience in California:

  1. Develop a standardized system for water projects to evaluate and report multiple benefits and use that information to prioritize state grants and loans. The need to do many things to advance water resilience does not mean that we must or can afford to do everything all at once. Resources are limited, and we must prioritize our efforts. While Portfolio recommendation #13 addresses the importance of projects with multiple benefits, it does not address prioritization nor does it recommend a standardized approach to evaluating multiple benefits.
  2. Engage proactively in Colorado River negotiations. The Colorado River is not mentioned in the Portfolio recommendations. To date, the State of California has deferred decisions about river management to Colorado River contractors. A resilient water portfolio for California must include the Colorado River, and the state should engage proactively in current and upcoming negotiations over its future.
  3. Advance water efficiency for commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) users. While Portfolio recommendation #2 calls for greater efficiency of water use in “all sectors,” CII users are omitted from the recommended actions. The business community in California is showing a real interest in improving water use efficiency, and more effort is needed to build on this momentum.
  4. Improve actions on the Salton Sea. Achieving the Portfolio’s recommendation #17 on the Salton Sea, to minimize air pollution and restore habitat at the Sea, will require accountability to the governor’s office itself, direct and continuing attention to planning and construction efforts, much greater coordination within and between state agencies and with stakeholders, greater transparency, and a clear articulation of the goals and objectives of state efforts beyond simply meeting existing acreage milestones.
  5. Expand recommendations around local stormwater capture. Portfolio recommendation #5 addresses the need to increase stormwater capture but does not address health and safety or long-term funding. To advance local stormwater capture projects across California, statewide health and safety guidelines for stormwater reuse are needed to empower communities to pursue stormwater capture. Additionally, policies that increase long-term funding and cover operation and maintenance (O&M) expenses are needed.

For further reading, see the Pacific Institute’s public comment letter responding to the draft Water Resilience Portfolio, submitted to Nancy Vogel, Director of the Governor’s Water Resilience Program, in February 2020. We are committed to continued research and collaboration towards increasing California’s water resilience.

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