Water policy must recognize water rights and surface storage

The age-old conflict of where the water originates and where it is needed continues to stump the best efforts of many water experts at all levels. It leaves the scientific community, public agencies and state legislators without a solution to issues like water supply, water quality, and ecological sustainability. Absent a consensus framework that commits funds and regulatory stability as the base to move forward, the courts and/or independent regulatory boards and commissions will continue to address the symptoms of the conflict in a piecemeal fashion, and ultimately water-supply reliability solutions shrink back to geographic imperatives driven by necessity.

Short-term solutions driven by demand for action rarely contribute to long-term sustainability. Whether the action is an annual purchase of water, mandatory rationing, recycling, commitment to cleanup, declarations of emergencies, or even short term financial relief, the underlying uncertainty has no relief valve. The tools for long term adaptability remain limited and we ask greater and greater precision from a system built decades ago.

Foundational to our Northern California Water Association members is the need for long-term water supply reliability and commitments to our foundational water rights and stability in the water rights administration process. This affirmation and recognition provides the assurances necessary to actively participate in the statewide long term water supply reliability efforts, knowing that current and future regional water needs will be met and economic and environmental benefits will be maintained.

The NCWA service area contains a rich mosaic of farmlands that provide incredible benefit as working landscapes to fish and wildlife resources. As a region tied to the Sacramento River and its tributaries, they have led the west coast in contributing to recovery of anadramous fish through the removal of barriers to allow for fish passage, positive barrier fish screens, (including the largest flat plate fish screen in the world), fishery flow agreements and dual utility infrastructure improvements that compliment environmental flows, hydro power, and irrigation efficiency.

To continue its ongoing commitment to these benefits, NCWA has embraced an Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, which includes objectives for water supply reliability for six national wildlife refuges and over 50 state wildlife areas. These public lands are nestled between private working landscapes many of which participate in federal and state sponsored agriculture and wildlife conservation programs. These actions are driven by forward thinking leaders who anticipate future regulatory conflict, manage lands as diverse portfolios in a competitive world agricultural economy, and cherish a land ethic that considers economically viable working landscapes that support fish and wildlife.

However, as we have seen across the state, we often only cherish what we had once it is gone. The voters in California have been remarkable in supporting bonds and initiatives when they include funds to provide fish, wildlife, and parks benefits. As a result, billions of dollars have been expended to recover, restore, and protect in perpetuity properties at risk including previously degraded habitats. These transactions, especially in urban coastal communities, are often measured by the square foot as a mosaic of habitats and functions are developed under the pragmatic reality that the broader surrounding landscape is irretrievably altered.

NCWA is fully supportive of a Delta that can sustain the environmental needs, local agriculture and water supply. We recognize that the health of the Delta is central to our success in contributing to recovery of anadramous fish because what they protect in the Sacramento watershed must pass through the Delta to the ocean and return to complete the life cycle. However, the tools and alternatives such as recycling, ground water banking, conjunctive use, ground water remediation, conservation, and desalinization that are potentially prominent in the portfolio of urban and south of delta communities have much more modest utility for the Sacramento Valley. As populations grow and ability to distribute costs over a larger and more diverse economic base develop, these tools will emerge.

However, commitment now of public funds for surface storage and affirmation of water rights are critical nuclei of public policy that will ensure we have all the tools to meet future needs comprehensively without sacrificing the rich mosaic of farm lands, cities, rural communities, and fish and wildlife resources of the Sacramento Valley.

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