Reports Recommend Strategies, Action for Making California More Resilient to Drought

By Carolyn Whetzel  

June 10 —The Association of California Water Agencies recommended a series of strategies and actions June 10 for building a statewide water management system more resilient to drought.

Included in a report that offers a snapshot of the current drought's regional impact and local vulnerabilities should 2015 be another dry year, the recommendations echo ACWA's prior calls for action to shore-up the state's aging water infrastructure, create new surface and groundwater storage, streamline water transfers and reduce the red-tape for innovative technologies like water recycling and desalination.

“This is snapshot in time,’’ ACWA President John Coleman said during a press call announcing the report, “2014 Drought: Impacts and Strategies for Resilience.’’

Coleman said the report is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of impacts, but rather a look at local vulnerabilities in the water system exposed by the drought.

Citing estimated from an earlier report by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, ACWA's report said California's nearly $45 billion a year agricultural industry stands to lose $1.7 billion from the drought. About 400,000 acres of farmland is expected to be idled this year due to lack of water.

Mandatory Water Restrictions in Place

Mandatory water restrictions are in place in many local communities, and lower river flows pose threats to endangered fish, such as the Chinook salmon, the report said. The extremely dry conditions have resulted in a nearly year-round wildfire season, the report said.

Topping the list of ACWA's recommendations is a call for federal and state officials to provide funding and technical assistance to implement shovel-ready water infrastructure projects, Dave Brent of Sacramento's utilities department said.

For example, Orange County has a groundwater replenishment system ready to go, and Sacramento needs to install new water intakes because water levels are so low, Brent said.

ACWA's report also recommends:

  •  new surface and groundwater storage to help address the state's groundwater challenges;
  •  use of real-time data by state and federal agencies to allow greater flexibility under existing laws to maximize water supplies from Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta;
  •  further streamlining of water transfers;
  •  expedited approval of regulations or permits that encourage water recycling, desalination and other innovative technologies;
  •  state collaboration with local agencies to more closely coordinate drought planning documents;
  •  funding and technical support to help local agencies develop long-term water infrastructure projects;
  •  disbursement of approved drought emergency funding, bond and other revenue for projects and programs to improve the state's aging infrastructure;
  •  funding for water-use efficiency activities in disadvantaged communities and
  •  review of the state's overall 2014 drought response to improve coordination for future dry conditions and extreme weather events.

    Environmental Group Promotes Conservation

    The Natural Resources Defense Council and Pacific Institute released a separate report June 10 saying California could save as much as 14 million acre-feet of water a year through aggressive conservation efforts, reusing water and capturing stormwater.

    The report, “The Untapped Potential of California's Water Supply,’’ looks at how modern irrigation technologies and practices can cut agricultural use of water by 17 to 22 percent, or 5.6 to 6.6 million acre feet a year. Improved efficiency, stormwater capture and greater water reuse in urban areas can save from 5.2 to 7.1 million acre feet a year, the report said.

    “As climate change brings more extreme weather, including droughts, ramping up forward-thinking solutions now will help us be more resilient,’’ Peter Gleick, president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, said in a statement. “With widespread adoption of available water conservation and efficiency improvements, demand can be met more readily, less expensively, and with less pressure on tapped-out rivers and groundwater basins. Moreover, water reuse and stormwater capture can boost local supplies.

    During the ACWA press call, the organization's executive director Timothy Quinn said the water savings estimates in the NRDC-Pacific Institute report were “inflated.’’

    “ACWA members … are doing these things,’’ Quinn said of the water saving measures outlined in the NRDC-Pacific Institute report. “We need comprehensive solutions.’’

    To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at