Newsom avoids water storage projects in California during drought


California Governor Gavin Newsom, left, speaks at a press conference where he announced a $ 5.1 billion investment proposal for preparedness, infrastructure and response to drought to ensure a more climate-resilient system, at the San Luis Reservoir Romero Visitor Center in Merced County, Calif., on Monday, May 10, 2021.

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When it comes to spending on water infrastructure to improve water supplies, protect farmers’ livelihoods, and provide safe and affordable drinking water to California’s nearly 40 million people, this state missed it several times.

Californians desperately need Governor Gavin Newsom to act and be the solution, not the problem.

The state has not invested appropriately in storing and transporting large surface water statewide, leaving California unprepared for drought conditions and putting its environmental and fiscal health at risk.

In 2014, Californians voted overwhelmingly for the Prop. 1, which included significant resources for the critical and important storage of surface water that would provide a more reliable water supply. However, the political will to prioritize the construction of these projects waned as soon as water began to fall from the sky and environmentalists pushed back any new reservoirs.

Seven years later, in the midst of yet another drought emergency, the money Californians provided for storage in 2014 still remains unused. About $ 2.7 billion of the $ 7.2 billion in Prop bonds. 1 were allocated specifically to water storage projects, but only $ 150 million was authorized, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. To date, not a shovel has touched the ground, not a gallon of water has been stored.

In 2016, after spending billions on habitat restoration and research to better understand the needs of listed species and a growing state, the state and federal governments decided to by mutual agreement to update the coordinated plan of operations that governs the Central Valley Project and California’s State Water Project. .

After a full environmental review, the United States Bureau of Reclamation under President Donald Trump authorized a new plan of operations in February 2020 and began implementing the new biological recommendations the next day – capture, store and deliver. the water.

Newsom chose to get rid of the scientifically founded and meticulously designed body of water just two months later.

In 2018, the California Water Plan underwent a historic overhaul to include the statement that “all Californians enjoy desirable conditions such as reduced flood risk, a more reliable water supply, reduced groundwater depletion, and reduced water availability. greater resilience of habitats and species ”.

This was also ignored.

In 2020, Newsom issued an executive order ordering state agencies to “act boldly” in developing a comprehensive strategy to build a climate resilient water supply system and to identify, assess and prioritize actions to ensure a safe and sustainable water supply, flood protection and healthy waterways. for communities, the economy and the environment of the State.

The agencies he set up as part of his water planning task force were considering the Prop. 1 as a reliable source of funding. Yet even though the California Water Commission has approved a major new surface water storage project – the Sites Reservoir in Colusa County – it still hasn’t moved forward.

The reality is that California has not completed a major state-wide water storage project since the completion of the New Melones Dam in 1980.

Newsom must play an active leadership role in ordering state agencies to speed up permitting and make water storage a priority. It can provide regulatory exemptions to streamline project delivery and keep costs as low as possible. It may also prioritize state and federal funding for projects that will increase water availability, save water, or provide emergency drinking water relief to struggling communities over the next 1-2. years. It has the power to use emergency and direct credits rather than competitive grants to speed up water projects.

Instead, the governor has demonstrated an affinity for acting on his own. He must use this authority for the sake of Californians and accelerate Reservoir Sites in Colusa County, the only major surface water storage project underway.

We simply cannot continue to provide water to 40 million people with a system designed for 19 million people. This state is woefully underprepared, and without substantial new investments in infrastructure to provide an additional water supply and move water where it is needed, California will remain in a state of perpetual drought.

State Senator Jim Nielsen represents the 4th District of the California Senate, which stretches from Sacramento to Tehama County.

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