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Newsom unveils new water plan, water allocations still only 30% of normal

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(The Center Square) – California Gavin Newsom unveiled his new water plan and projects that forecasted delivery of state aqueduct water allocations will reach only 30% of requested water. Water experts warn that drought-level allocations despite above-average rain and snow for the last two years will lead to more groundwater pumping, delaying recharging of the state’s depleted aquifers, underground reservoirs of last resort.

“In the past few years alone, we’ve gone from extreme drought to some of the most intense rain and snow seasons on record – showcasing the need for us to constantly adapt to how we manage our water supplies,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom in a statement. “The water plans and strategies we’re implementing are each targeted components of our overall effort to deliver clean water to Californians by capturing, storing, and conserving more water throughout the state.”

The California Department of Water Resources says the state’s reservoirs are at “115 percent of average for this time of year” but that the state aqueduct system will provide “delivery of 30 percent of requested supplies to contractors south of the Delta, which accounts for the majority of contractors; 50 percent of requested supplies to contractors north of the Delta; and an anticipated 100 percent allocation to Feather River Settlement Contractors.”

Meanwhile, water experts warn the state’s inability or lack of willingness to supply adequate water and expand water supplies could come at a serious cost to the state’s residents and businesses.

“If the governor is serious about water resiliency he has to recognize there has to a balance between the alleged water requirements that environmentalists assign to the rivers with unimpaired flow, the needs of our farmers, and the need to let our aquifers recharge, said natural resources expert and California Policy Center co-founder Edward Ring. “Because when farmers can’t get the water from the aqueduct to irrigate their crops, they’re forced to pump groundwater. If they could get their surface water this year, they could let the aquifers recharge even more than is required by the new groundwater pumping regulations.”

Over a third of America’s vegetables and three quarters of its fruits and nuts are grown in California, which serves as the nation’s breadbasket for directly consumed food. Should California farmers be forced to let more acres go fallow due to a combination of groundwater pumping restrictions and reduced aqueduct water, the entire country, and the world, could face higher food prices.

The state’s 336 page water plan, updated every five years, focuses on “addressing climate urgency,” “strengthening watershed resilience,” and “achieving equity.” For “climate urgency,” the state plans on “transitioning the state to net-zero carbon emissions” and “critical natural and built infrastructure for water storage, treatment, distribution, reuse, and stormwater capture within and among regions and watersheds.” For the first time, the state’s water plan has a chapter on Native tribes’ contribution to water governance, and notes, “Tribal government representation on decision-making bodies would facilitate incorporation of Indigenous knowledge and practices of holistic watershed management.”

The plan divides the state’s water history into three segments: the first, from 1850 to 1950 of “resource extraction,” the second, from 1950 to 1970 of “infrastructure expansion,” and the third, from 1970 to the present as “sustainable resource management.” Implicit in these designations is that the state’s water infrastructure has not significantly expanded since the 1970s, when the state’s population was just over a third what it is today.

The state has not built a reservoir with more than one million gallons of capacity since 1978, despite the governor’s executive order to accelerate environmental approvals for Sites Reservoir, which was funded by 2014’s Proposition 1 and will hold enough water to supply 3 million households for one year. Proposition 1 has yet to yield a single project due to activists’ continued use of California Environmental Quality Act to hold up construction in courts, but the governor maintains the ability to issue orders mandating similar environmental approval accelerations for other water projects.