water plan

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Keeping Central Valley Crops and People Safe From Floods: A Costly Proposition

Big plans to revamp the Valley’s piecemeal flood management system…if there’s money for it

Now that the state’s revamped Central Valley Flood Protection Plan (big PDF) is out for public perusal, the question is whether the political will — and the cash — will be there to make it happen.

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California's status as an agricultural powerhouse is largely due to the fertile lands in the Central Valley, which are also prone to floods.

The Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins run through the valley and can overflow their banks threatening more than a million people and an estimated $69 billion in assets, according to the report.┬áThe current flood management system has been in place for about a hundred years and was designed specifically to keep water from the rivers off the land so that people could grow crops. Now the system has varied uses including conservation of habitat, water supply and water quality. The old system really isn’t up to the job anymore and almost everyone agrees that it will take a serious investment to bring it up to snuff.

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New Blueprint for California Water Use

img_3449.JPGCalifornia’s Dept. of Water Resources has issued a new gameplan for managing the state’s precarious water supply. DWR calls its draft California Water Plan “a new chapter in the way California must manage her water resources,” warning that “the system has lost its reslience.”

The agency appears to fully recognize the impact of climate change in assessing the challenges ahead. In its conclusion, the draft plan says:

“Population is growing while available water supplies are static and even decreasing. Climate change, as evidenced by changes in snowpack, river flows and sea levels, is profoundly impacting our water resources.”

Note that the report doesn’t say that climate change “may be” affecting water resources, it says that it is already. The plan also recognizes for the first time, that water and flood management need to be part of the same process, and that there has to be a coordinated, long-term strategy for investing in California’s water system:

“…funds from bond-to-bond are neither sufficient nor sustainable. California needs more stable and continuous sources of revenue to invest in statewide and regional integrated water management and the build resilience back into the state’s water and flood management systems, as well as into the watersheds, groundwater basins, and ecosystems that support them.”

The “public review draft” released today provides a good piece of perspective when it notes that while the current drought seems comparable to the 1977 dry spell, the state’s population is nearly 75% larger now.

The draft catalogs 27 potential strategies for managing the state’s water. Much of the report reiterates well established positions at DWR, such as the call for more (surface) water storage and a peripheral canal for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Photo: A nearly dry reservoir in the Santa Cruz Mountains.