North State Water Alliance Stands Up for Northern California Water Users
The people who live and work in urban Sacramento valley and in the rural mountain counties have long seen themselves as having divergent interests, but times are changing.
Five organizations have come together to form the North State Water Alliance. The founding partners are: Mountain Counties Water Resources Association, Northern California Water Association, Regional Water Authority, Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber, and Sacramento Area Council of Governments. They combine expertise in water management, government, agriculture, business, economic development, engineering and science.
“At its core, the Alliance weaves together a rural and urban perspective that showcases the importance of water to the north state. We all know that redirecting water away from the north state would have negative effects on our economy and the environment—the special nature of the north state,” said David Guy, President of Northern California Water Association.
Water for people started before the Gold Rush
The history of those rights begins before California became a state. In 1846, President James Polk, having declared war against Mexico, sent a regiment of volunteers under Col. Jonathan Stevenson from New York to California. The men were chosen because they were likely to remain in California at the close of war.
Settling the West was important for the United States to maintain its claims on the lands. In California, the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848 just before the end of the Mexican War, attracted thousands from all over the world.
Companies soon formed to divert water and build canals, first for mining, then to provide irrigation water for farmers. The conveyance systems from that era form part of the infrastructure for the water districts in the northern Sierra Nevada. For example, the origins of Georgetown Public Utility District in El Dorado County can be traced to 1852, when the El Dorado, Pilot and Rock Creek Canal Companies became one of the first water purveyors in the state. The district’s 75-mile ditch system comes from that era.
Building cities, growing crops and preserving water rights
In a further effort to encourage settlement in the arid and semi-arid West, Congress passed the Reclamation Act of 1902, creating the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation with a mission to build dams, reservoirs and canals to irrigate lands in 16 western states.
The Watershed Protection Act of 1933 passed at the same time the Central Valley Project was authorized to construct 20 dams and reservoirs that would control flooding, allowing cities to grow in the valley along the rivers, and providing water to create productive farming in the Central Valley and freshwater for the Delta.
The Act protects area-of-origin residents by mandating that inhabitants of a watershed where water originates not be deprived of the prior right to all of their reasonable water needs by the construction of any state or federal project.
Demands on north state water
It has been a rule of thumb that two-thirds of the state’s rain and snow falls in northern California, while two-thirds of the demand for water comes from southern California.
Demands on northern California’s waters have been increasing for several years. Population in the state continues to grow, expanding the need for water for homes and businesses. Many farmers are converting crops to higher-value nuts and fruits. Flood protection needs are escalating, Fish populations have been declining. Ecosystems are forming a new, and perhaps less desirable, normal. Recreation on the state’s rivers and lakes is becoming more popular. Catastrophic wildfires threaten the source waters by destroying the trees that capture rainfall.
In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey forecasts a 62 percent probability of a magnitude 6.7 or greater quake in the San Francisco region near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta before 2032.
Scientists are studying climatic changes in northern California, such as prolonged periods of drought vacillating with periods of heavy rains. They are researching the effects on the Delta of sea level rise that is forecast, including salinity levels. In the mountains, they are investigating the effects of a warming cycle on the ability of the high, forested elevations to receive and retain sufficient snowpack to meet the large amount of freshwater demands in the future.
Fifteen percent of California’s energy comes from hydroelectric facilities, located mainly in northern California, that emit no greenhouse gas.
Reduced water supplies by prolonged drought or diverting water affects the amount of electricity supplied by hydropower. Water-related energy use includes the conveyance, storage, treatment, distribution, wastewater collection, treatment, and discharge sectors of the water use cycle. It is referred to as “water-embedded energy” according to a 2007 report by the California Energy Commission entitled “Water-related Energy Use in California.” Embedded energy consumes about 19 percent of the state’s electricity, 30 percent of natural gas and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year.
State water planning
As the state Natural Resources Agency worked on developing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the Delta Stewardship Council was established in 2009 to create a Delta Plan, and an $11.1 billion water bond was placed on the 2010 ballot, which has since been moved to the 2014 ballot. Members in the North State Water Alliance became concerned that the interests of their areas would be sacrificed to the needs of central and southern California.
“Protecting northern California’s water interests is our greatest concern. Our water supply and economic sustainability is in play” said Mountain Counties Water Resources Association Executive Director John Kingsbury.
The first principle of the North State Water Alliance is: “Water rights priorities and area-of-origin assurances must be recognized and protected to ensure reliable supplies for all water users and environmental needs in our region.” “We have to speak with one voice. We have to protect our upstream water rights,” said Sacramento Metro Chamber President and CEO Roger Niello.
This principle is particularly important for members of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) which launched its Rural-Urban Connections Strategy (RUCS) project 4 years ago to help the region better understand how rural issues affect regional sustainability. The project has been instrumental in helping elected officials and a range of urban and rural stakeholders engage in agriculture and forestry and the potential to increase economic development and jobs in these important sectors of the region’s economy. “Water supply reliability and quality is the cornerstone to supporting and enhancing economic development in our rural areas, as well as in our urban areas” noted David Shabazian, project manager at SACOG. The RUCS effort has been an important catalyst for a regional dialog about water supply. Whereas participation in regional efforts by the water resource interests was limited in the past, the RUCS project brings into sharper focus concerns about state efforts on water resources.
The boundaries of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta had been legally-defined by the legislature. A secondary zone was identified as the lands on the perimeter in five counties that had more intense development. Early in the process of the Delta Plan, the secondary zone was revised to include almost all of California, making the entire state subject to the same policies and regulations of the Delta Plan.
Another revision was use of the term “Delta watershed.” The Delta watershed refers to the waters that flow through the Delta. It puts the focus and priority on the receiving area rather than the customary definition. A watershed normally describes the drainage system of a river from its headwaters, which puts attention on the source waters. Along with the use of” Delta watershed,” the Delta is often referred to as the source of water delivered to central and southern California, completely denying the role of upstream sources.
North State Water Alliance takes action
In March the North State Water Alliance submitted written comments on the 5th Draft Delta Plan detailing its position on area-of-origin rights and recommending changes.
In June the Alliance commented on the 6th Draft Delta Plan, focusing on a statewide requirement that does not apply to the watershed areas.
In an effort to reduce reliance on Delta water, the Delta Plan proposes “regional self-reliance.” Alternative water supplies–groundwater, conjunctive use, desalination–must be evaluated before using water from the Delta. Upstream water users have no alternative sources of water,
The North State Water Alliance letter describes regional self-reliance as it applies to upstream users: “North State water suppliers and users are aggressively pursuing water use efficiency, water recycling, advanced water technologies, local and regional water supply projects and improved regional coordination of local and regional water supply efforts, as required in Water Code §85021. We have also pursued a number of actions in the region to balance and thus ensure reliable water supplies for both economic purposes and sustainable ecosystems.”
Both the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and the Delta Plan have fallen behind in their schedules for completion. It will be at least another year before either of them is adopted. If the California Fish and Game approves the BDCP, it will become part of the Delta Plan. That includes any conveyance facility that may be included in the BDCP. The $11.1 million water bond that was put over from November 2010 to 2012 is now set for 2014.
Although the North State Water Alliance represents a small portion of the state’s population, the areas of origin are critical for providing California with high-quality water in the future. As of 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the six-county Sacramento metropolitan region has around 2.5 million people, 6.6 percent of the state’s 37.7 million population. The northern California mountain counties without urban areas on their western ends–Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Lassen, Mariposa Nevada, Plumas, Sierra and Tuolumne–have a combined population of 313,400, about .08 percent of Californians.
The second principle of the North State Water Alliance is: “Stakeholders in the North State must be given the opportunity to be fully included in and consulted on all aspects of development of a Delta solution and other state and federal water policies that affect the region.”
Regional Water Authority Executive Director John Woodling said, “We created the Alliance to leverage the efforts of a number of organizations in northern California on statewide water issues. By aligning our messages and reaching out to a broader audience in our region, we hope to better protect our interests while we work toward solutions for California’s water future.
“RWA members serve 2 million people in the metropolitan area surrounding Sacramento. By recognizing and representing the interests we share with our rural and agricultural neighbors in the Sierra Nevada and northern Sacramento Valley, we hope to be more effective in influencing water policy decisions in California.
“Water agencies and associations in northern California have been working closely on water policy issues for many years. Through the North State Water Alliance, we are hoping to involve a broader base–those focused on the economic, environmental and recreational importance of water–in advocating for the interests of our region.”
NORTH STATE WATER ALLIANCE
COMMITTED TO STATEWIDE WATER SOLUTIONS THAT PROTECT THE ECONOMY, ENVIRONMENT, AND QUALITY OF LIFE IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA.
North State Water Alliance Founding Partners www.northstatewater.org
Mountain Counties Water Resources Association
For more information, visit www.mountaincountieswater.org
or: John Kingsbury – firstname.lastname@example.org
Northern California Water Association
For more information, visit www.norcalwater.org
or: David Guy – email@example.com
Regional Water Authority
For more information, visit www.rwah2o.org
or: John Woodling – firstname.lastname@example.org
Sacramento Metro Chamber
For more information, visit www.metrochamber.org
or: Roger Niello – email@example.com