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Report Card: Grading Gov. Brown’s Drought Response

How has Gov. Brown’s administration done so far in responding to California’s drought and ensuring Californians have enough clean drinking water? A new “report card” from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows there is definitely room for improvement, especially when it comes to the Bay Delta.

Written by Kate Poole Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Dear California drinkers of water, growers of plants, fishers, boaters, swimmers and river enthusiasts: Here is a progress report on how Gov. Jerry Brown and the state administration are doing to ensure clean, sufficient water for people and the environment during California’s drought, now entering its fifth year.

There is some good news and some bad news. Since this assessment directly impacts your future health, well-being, communities and quality of life in California, we encourage you to use this report to start a meaningful conversation with elected officials about the importance of water in your life and how they can and must do a better job at protecting it.

Let’s start with areas in which there is significant room for improvement.

F for Bay Delta Protection

While many previous administrations have struggled with protecting the Bay Delta ecosystem (the hub of California’s water system and the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas), the Brown administration’s performance has been especially disappointing – given its commitment to science in other arenas and repeated acknowledgements of the urgent need to protect and restore the Bay Delta.

In an uncharacteristic display, this administration has deliberately ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence ­– much of it from the state’s own Department of Fish and Wildlife – demonstrating the need to significantly increase freshwater flows through the Bay Delta, and has instead reduced flowsand taken more than 1.3 million acre-feet (1.6 billion cubic meters) away from environmental protections in the past two years. That’s more water than two cities the size of Los Angeles use in a year.

The predictable result has been native fish species plummeting to their lowest levels of abundance ever and increasing water pollution problems in the Delta. These poor decisions have also led to the death two years in a row of approximately 95-98 percent of young winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam, and equally devastating impacts on fall-run Chinook, the backbone of the salmon fishery. Under no scenario can this approach be called a success.

Ds for Stormwater Capture and Agricultural Water Conservation

The Brown administration has also been surprisingly recalcitrant in implementing the win-win solutions of capturing and reusing rainwater in our cities when it does fall, and helping ensure a healthy future for California agriculture by requiring that farmers use modern, water-efficient irrigation methods and equipment.

While the governor seems to recognize the need for these improvements in his report entitled a “California Water Action Plan,” the administration has failed to take many positive and necessary steps to carry through on the ideas.

These include defining requirements that cities should meet to reduce the discharge of polluted stormwater and to capture it before it is polluted and save it for later use. It also includes putting the same expectations for water conservation on farmers as the state has put on city dwellers by defining a water use reduction target and helping the more than 50 percent of farmers who use outdated, wasteful irrigation methods to upgrade to drip irrigation systems, deploy soil moisture sensors and access water delivery systems that allow for on-demand delivery.

Bs for Water Recycling and Urban Water Conservation

These two areas have been bright spots in the state’s performance and we encourage them to keep up the good work. Unfortunately, recent proposals indicate that the administration may be digressing on urban conservation efforts, and allowing cities with high per capita water use to backslide in their water-savings efforts, primarily so that their local agencies can make more money by selling more water.

This is attempting to address a problem with the wrong solution. If water agencies have set their prices to disincentivize water saving efforts, the problem is with the pricing not with the water savings. The Brown administration should address the real problem, and notencourage more water use.

We look forward to seeing significant improvement from Gov. Brown and his officials in the coming year, and will work tirelessly and relentlessly to ensure that they realize their full potential.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.

Top image: Gov. Jerry Brown talks during a news conference after meeting with several California mayors to discuss water conservation at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. (Steve Yeater, Associated Press)

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