Urgency Called for in Dealing with Water Needs
Heather Hacking, Chico ER Staff Writer
A coalition of public water agencies in California wants legislators to become more active in planning for the state's future water needs.
A report titled "No Time to Waste: A Blueprint for California Water," was presented Wednesday during Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) annual spring conference in San Jose.
The report has many similarities to the California Water Plan update 2005, released by the Department of Water Resources recently, and up for review through June.
The summaries of both documents touch on similar needs, like addressing new storage options, solving environmental concerns in the Bay Area Delta, flood control and regional water management.
"We are thinking along the same lines as the state," noted ACWA executive director Steve Hall.
However, the ACWA report contains a greater sense of urgency.
"These actions (in the ACWA blueprint) need to be taken and they cannot wait," Hall said.
"The governor, in particular, needs to take this on as one of his legacy initiatives to move forward," he added.
"The governor has not spoken that much publicly about water," Hall said. "We are told that within his cabinet it is a priority," and that the governor has the state water director Lester Snow working on it.
"There's a lot of things that don't need legislation, they just need an executive order for what to do," Hall said.
"We have a $1 trillion economy. We can afford to improve our water supply and quality," Hall said.
One issue is new surface and groundwater storage.
At a recent water conference in Chico, former Department of Water Resources deputy Jonas Minton said he didn't see large new storage projects being built any time soon because water users have not stepped up to the plate to help foot the bill.
But the ACWA planning document specifically states that ACWA members are prepared to pay "their fair share for benefits received because they see the value of investing in water supply and water quality improvements."
Typically when discussion on new projects occurs, the state has a concept of "beneficiary pays." The problem, Hall noted, is figuring out what is a fair share.
"No one is willing to step out and say we'll pay X amount," Hall said. "They're afraid other people won't match them and they'll be stuck with the bill."
Asked if the public should expect the cost of water to rise after all is said and done, Hall said maybe, but not by much.
"Lester Snow has an idea that is intriguing," Hall said. "If every household pays $2 a month with their water bill, that would raise up to $0.5 billion ($500 million) a year."
Hall said his group is not yet buying into this idea, but it is something to think about. His group's point is that "too many times there are proposals that would force all of the costs under one group of water users."
Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District Manager Van Tenney, who was also at the conference Wednesday, has been active in work to build Sites Reservoir near Maxwell. He said for that project, "Now it's time to belly-up and put money up to make this happen." However, reluctance comes in when it is unknown how to determine who exactly is a beneficiary.
For example, with ecosystem improvements, "who do you charge environmental improvements to?" Tenney said.
The ACWA plan includes 12 recommendations including improving the Delta, supporting water recycling and desalination, supporting regional water management plans and preventing floods, among others.
Making water transfers paperwork run more smoothly is also mentioned. "The state Water Resources Control Board can be a black hole with someone with a water transfer," Hall said.
Tenney, whose agency has taken part in transfers, agreed improvements need to be made, but agencies working on water transfers seem to be getting more comfortable with the process.
Hall urged people throughout the state to make water a higher priority.
"Lester Snow did say he viewed both of these documents as important documents but only if they're acted upon," Hall said. "If they're simply just put on shelf, all the time that has been spent will have been wasted."
ACWA, formed in 1910, is the largest coalition of public water agencies in the country, and represents its members in legislative and regulatory affairs. Its 447 public agency members deliver 90 percent of the water used by cities farms and businesses in California.
Staff writer Heather Hacking can be reached at 896-7758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BACKGROUND: The Association of California Water Agencies wants state and federal leaders to focus more on preparing for California's future water needs.
WHAT'S NEW: The group announced release of a new report that calls for investment in water infrastructure, completion of regional water management plans, using technology for conservation and desalination and fine-tuning regulatory oversight.
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