Brown’s California Water Action Plan: Much Progress Made in Building a Sustainable Water Future

  • by Timothy Quinn
  • Nov 17, 2017
  • Voices on Water

Sometimes it seems California water policy is caught in an endless “do loop,” repeating itself over and over and not making any progress. But progress is a matter of perspective. It is much like the story of the two hikers climbing out of the Grand Canyon. One looks up at the canyon rim above and laments about how far they have to go. The other looks back at the canyon floor far below and says “but look how far we have come.” California water policy is like that – we will always have a lot of work before us, but we should not lose sight of how much we have accomplished.

Governor Brown’s California Water Action Plan is a case in point. That plan identifies a comprehensive set of actions that is broadly supported in the water management community, even if there is a lot of “devil in the details” to deal with. On several fronts, we are making solid progress on that plan.

Conservation as a Way of Life.Conservation is the first element in the governor’s plan and there is no disputing the fact that our industry has been hugely successful in keeping water demands down. Statewide and local education continues to motivate Californians to reduce water use. As an industry, we have hung together to protect local discretion with more than a hundred agencies signing onto ACWA’s positions in both the administrative and legislative arenas. We started this year with nine conservation bills and wound up with two. Both are now two-year bills and we are well organized to obtain legislation that moves long-term conservation policy in the right direction.

Drought Management. After the challenges of 2015 and a misguided policy that discouraged local investment and was patently unfair, we came a long way during the drought with the temporary enactment of the “stress test.” Forward-thinking drought contingency planning on the local level coupled with local infrastructure development are enabling California communities to better withstand dry periods. Put a “W” in the column next to this one. Legislative discussions will continue in 2018 regarding future drought contingencies and water use efficiency.

The Delta. Governor Brown continues to try and move a Delta solution forward. Even as federal CVP contractors seem to say “no” (while agreeing that core problems must be resolved), the fact that local agencies representing 84 percent of SWP supplies have said “yes” in one way or another is encouraging. ACWA policy unambiguously supports moving forward with Delta solutions that are part of a comprehensive policy that works for all of California. We are closer to Delta solutions that meet these criteria than at any time in my 40-year career.

Storage. Put another “W” in the column next to storage. The California Water Commission is expected in 2018 to allocate $2.7 billion from Proposition 1 (an ACWA success story from 2014) to successful storage projects competing for these funds, subject to the projects fulfilling the requirements of Proposition 1 as they move toward implementation. Eleven projects have been deemed “eligible” by the CWC to move forward in the process, including CALFED surface storage projects (Sites, Temperance Flat, and Los Vaqueros expansion) and eight other surface and groundwater storage projects located throughout the state. California is poised to add millions of acre-feet of new storage capacity to the system in ways that have not happened for half a century.

Groundwater Management. No law passed in the past decade (or more) was more controversial than the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. But the fact is that SGMA, with its locally driven focus on sustainable groundwater conditions, is essential for California’s future. June 30 was the deadline for the formation of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and, guess what, we are getting the job done.According to the State Water Board, “…more than 99 percent of the state’s high- and medium-priority groundwater basins have met a key deadline to form local GSAs.” That’s a remarkable success story.

Headwaters. At ACWA, we have long recognized the need to manage the system from “peaks to the Pacific” and Board policy has consistently supported investments in our upper watersheds. We know the horrors of living with mismanaged forests and the wildfires that result, and we are making progress in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C. on funding and policy that can dramatically increase the pace and scale of better forest management in California.

Yes, that canyon rim is still way up there. But take a moment to acknowledge the progress that the water management industry in California made in 2017. We’ll need to continue the trek once again in 2018 to make more progress, but the goals are attainable with the focus and commitment of our member agencies.

ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn may be reached at

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