September 26, 2023 — The California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) are collaboratively investing $55 million in the Sacramento Regional Water Authority. This investment aims to strengthen water resilience and foster environmental well-being in the Sacramento area amidst the ongoing impacts of climate change and recurring droughts.
Focusing on Infrastructure Upgrades.
The California DWR’s news release yesterday stated that 21 projects will be advanced, focusing on the enhancement of local water supplies and ensuring environmental flows for the Lower American River, especially during dry spells. The initiative includes the creation of new and optimized groundwater wells and the refinement of existing wells, pumps, interties, and storage facilities. These augmentations will notably enhance the regional water system’s capacity, facilitating improved inter-agency water supply transfers, sustainable groundwater usage during dry periods, and groundwater aquifer recharge during optimal conditions.
Promoting Sustainability and Environmental Health.
The improvements are poised to bolster the region’s ability to mitigate intense drought and climate-induced impacts, minimize dependence on surface water, and allocate supplies effectively to meet communal and environmental needs. Enhanced groundwater supplies and usage will decrease diversions from the Lower American River in arid conditions, promoting instream flows vital for sustaining fragile ecosystems and fish species like salmon and steelhead. The agreement entails the allocation of 30,000 acre-feet of water in the river during critical dry spells over eight years, post the completion of infrastructure upgrades anticipated within the next two years.
State and Local Synergy.
The collaboration brought together state representatives, water agencies, and elected officials to underline these pivotal investments. Michelle Banonis, Manager of Strategic Affairs for the Regional Water Authority, remarked, “This investment will allow us to build on proven methods for securing our water supplies while also providing water for the environment during the driest times, long into the future.” DWR Director Karla Nemeth emphasized the importance of proactive investments in infrastructure for securing a reliable water supply in a future shaped by climate change.
This funding partnership exemplifies California’s dedication to collaborate with local entities to rejuvenate river flows, rehabilitate ecosystems, and fortify water supply reliability. “This agreement will support projects that modernize infrastructure and improve water resiliency,” stated Charlton H. Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Sacramento Regional Water Authority, representing nearly two dozen water providers serving 2.2 million people, will execute the funded projects in conjunction with nine regional water providers including the City of Roseville, Sacramento County Water Agency, Sacramento Suburban Water District, and others.
Elsewhere in the Bay-Delta Area: Litigation.
The Bay-Delta, formed by the confluence of the northern Sacramento River and the southern San Joaquin River, is undergoing a detailed reevaluation through the Bay-Delta Plan, addressing each river’s unique geographic, climatic, and ecological context. Initiated in December 2018, the plan, amended by the State Water Board, focuses on protecting fish and wildlife in the Lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries—Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced Rivers—and introduces a new salinity objective to protect agricultural uses in the southern Delta. The board is also exploring further updates, considering voluntary agreements and additional protections across tributaries of both rivers, to comprehensively address the diverse needs and challenges of the interconnected river systems and their surrounding environments.
Central Valley Districts Advocate for Holistic Approach.
According to PattersonIrrigator.com, Central Valley water districts are advocating for a more comprehensive approach to fisheries, opposing the 2018 state plan mandating unimpaired flows of 30% to 50% in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers’ San Joaquin tributaries, which form part of the state’s water quality control update for the Bay-Delta plan. The districts, among them Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts, are pursuing voluntary agreements to substitute the state’s flow-only approach, contending that the plan substantially reduces water supplies to the region without effectively restoring fish populations.
Legal Challenges and Voluntary Agreements.
Meanwhile, legal challenges to the state’s Bay-Delta plan are underway, with about a dozen lawsuits, including one from the California Farm Bureau dubbed the “Water Rights vs. Fish” case by PattersonIrrigator.com. Oral arguments in these cases were presented in Sacramento County Superior Court, challenging aspects related to the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act and the California Environmental Quality Act, among others. Despite the ongoing litigation and challenges, the water districts and affected entities continue to explore voluntary agreements and cooperation with state entities, seeking balanced and multifaceted solutions that consider water rights and quality in addressing the diverse needs of the Bay-Delta and its tributaries.