Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Best Laid Plans

The ongoing evolution of water planning in this state is beginning to make itself known in the shifting political structures that are responsible for resolving water distribution and planning issues. A new agency is taking shape that will take up the reins from the old order of the CALFED group, and put greater emphasis on the environmental concerns of water and fisheries in the Bay Delta region. This is the plan (CASP) that needs to go forward as a consensus, and is being dealt with as a separate problem solution from the immediate need to coordinate conservation of water in farming practices, as I blogged about previously.

The new Delta Independent Science Board (ISB) comprised of 10 nationally and internationally prominent scientists will hold its first meeting Sept. 30-Oct. 1. During the initial public meeting, the Delta ISB charge will be given and the Delta ISB Chair and Vice-Chair will be elected. Additionally, there will be a Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Panel discussion and an update from the National Research Council Committee on Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009 (Delta Reform Act) established the Delta ISB, whose members were to be appointed by the Delta Stewardship Council, which was also created by the Delta Reform Act as an independent agency of the State of California. The Delta ISB replaced the previous CALFED Independent Science Board.

The Delta Stewardship Council clarifies its role, arising from its establishment as an independent state agency by this Act. Its duty is to develop and adopt a Bay Delta Conservation Plan (CASP) by January 1. 2012. It is meeting on Sept. 23 and 24 to outline the directives being given to the ISB regarding the Bay Delta water quality and fisheries elements of the Bay Delta, which now includes a charge to identify the impact of recent information from NOAA on the policies for this region.

The complex political and environmental issues are being addressed in this manner so as to account for all the impacts of water planning decisions in a statewide, synergistic way. Some policies currently in place directly contradict effective water management solutions, such as are pointed out by Wayne Lusvardi in his review of the book, Running Out of Water:

SB375 requires regional planning agencies to put into place sustainable growth plans. It will require that new housing development be shifted from the urban fringe, where groundwater resources are more abundant, such as San Bernardino County, to highly dense urban areas near public transit and light rail lines, such as Los Angeles and Pasadena, where local water sources are patchy and often polluted. The environmental intent of SB375 is to reduce auto commuter trips, air pollution and gasoline consumption.

However, the legislation will unintentionally result in more reliance on imported water supplies from the Sacramento Delta, Mono Lake and the Colorado River for thirsty cities along California's coastline instead of diverting development to inland areas that have more sustainable groundwater resources

The fundamental issue here is that the cost, and the power required to move all this water to populated areas, is the major cause of unsustainable development. The existing water projects are already at their limit, and are being impacted by climate change that reduces the snowpack and rainfall. Groundwater resources are important, but these sources are also at their limit with some of the aquifers under populated areas already being overdrawn, such as the Raymond Basin. Therefore these solutions will have to be crafted in a way that don't rely on moving massive amounts of water across the state. This basically speaks for recycling wastewater into landscape irrigation (the biggest usage - up to 80% - in residential areas), since this wastewater is already produced by heavily populated areas. Toilet to tap, as they say, but all water has to be processed because of the pollutants and organic waste (fish poop!) that occurs naturally in lakes and streams. Which is why you can't safely drink water from a river without a filter mechanism.