DWR Releases Final Plan for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Department of Water Resources has released a plan for significantly curbing its greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.

The plan, approved by DWR Director Mark Cowin, sets the stage for the department to reduce emissions by 50% over 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80% by 2050.

DWR estimates that its greenhouse gas emissions totaled nearly 3.5 million metric tons in 1990, roughly the equivalent of a coal fired power plant or 680,000 passenger cars operating for a year. Most of these emissions were associated with generating electricity used to move water through the 700-mile-long State Water Project, which pumps water from Northern California rivers to the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Southern California cities, and Central Valley farms.

Since 1990, DWR’s GHG emissions have fluctuated due to hydrologic conditions, water demands, and energy resources. The department’s emissions peaked in 2003 at over 4.1 million metric tons per year.

In addition to using large amounts of energy, the department also generates electricity in the course of moving water.

The plan, known officially as the DWR Climate Action Plan Phase I: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan, calls for a number of measures to reduce emissions. They include:

  • Termination of a contract with a coal-fired power plant in Nevada that accounts for roughly 30% to 50% of the department’s operational emissions;
  • Increasing the efficiency of pumps and turbines throughout the State Water Project system with state-of-the-art design, construction, and refurbishing;
  • Boosting the proportion of electricity consumed by the State Water Project that comes from renewable and high-efficiency natural gas-fired sources;
  • Exploring ways to develop renewable energy on land owned by DWR, such as installing solar panels on land adjacent to pumping plants;
  • Changing construction practices to minimize fuel consumption and landfill waste;
  • Participating in the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s Greenergy program, which will ensure that much of DWR’s office space in Sacramento is powered by renewable sources;
  • Buying 2,580 metric tons of carbon offsets each year of the next decade to fund projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a news release, Cowin said the measures collectively are expected to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by more than 1 million metric tons and by more than 2.5 million metric tons in 2050.

“These are significant impacts in terms of climate change adaption for California’s benefit,” Cowin said.

Climate change has huge implications for California water resources, in particular the Sierra snowpack that supplies most of the state’s urban and agricultural water users. Climate change already is shifting the precipitation mix in California in favor of more rainfall and less snow, and the Sierra snowpack is melting earlier in the spring, leading to reduced water availability later in the year when demand is high, according to DWR.

Sea level rise associated with climate change threatens coastal lands and infrastructure, and puts additional stress on levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the heart of California’s water supply system.

DWR’s greenhouse gas reduction plan outlines steps DWR has taken and will take to reduce its emissions consistent with the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) and Executive Order S-3-05, which establish emissions reduction targets for the State of California, and with DWR’s Sustainability Policy and Targets.

The plan was provided to other state agencies, the State Water (Project) Contractors and the public for review and comment through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.

It is available online here.