Growing Returns

Three building blocks to water resilience for the Colorado River and beyond

One of the nation’s most important water agreements in recent history – the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan – just crossed its last major milestone: winning bipartisan approval in Congress.

The driving force behind the water conservation plan is a nearly two-decade drought that has caused Lake Mead, a reservoir outside of Las Vegas, to fall to its lowest level ever. The drought plan outlines how Arizona, California and Nevada – the three states that rely on Lake Mead – will share cuts to avoid a crisis. The Upper Basin states of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah also agreed to operate reservoirs differently and begin exploring demand management to bolster Lake Powell.

Under the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona will need to reduce its share of Lake Mead water by 512,000 acre feet and Nevada will have to reduce its share by 21,000 acre feet when the lake’s elevation falls to 1,075 feet. California will have to reduce its share by 200,000 acre feet when the lake’s elevation falls to 1,045 feet. (Photo Credit).

The president’s signature is the final step of a multiyear, seven-state effort. But the Colorado River plan also marks a new beginning: the start of a highly productive period for water policy to build greater resilience to climate change across the country.

While recently attending the 10 Across Water Summit, I was struck by three common building blocks of successful water policy that apply across the Interstate 10 corridor and the nation: bottom-up visioning, collaboration and bridging the urban-rural divide. Read More »

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Averting a looming crisis on the Colorado River

It’s finally time to celebrate that federal and state agencies as well as local water districts have agreed on the terms of Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) agreements in both the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins to manage water more sustainably.

The DCP is intended to incentivize water conservation while protecting existing water rights, recognizing the values of the basin’s agricultural communities and respecting the need to protect the basin’s environmental resources.

Representatives from the seven Colorado River Basin states gathered in Phoenix today to mark the historic milestone and publish a joint letter to Congress. In the letter, the states urge Congress to pass federal legislation by April 22 to authorize the Department of Interior to implement the DCP to address “a looming crisis.” Environmental Defense Fund signed a letter with our conservation partners expressing strong support for the DCP and urging Congress to support its enabling legislation. Read More »

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The clock is ticking for groundwater managers in California’s most over-drafted basins

By this time next year, 21 critically over-drafted groundwater basins in California must submit plans to the state’s Department of Water Resources for how to bring their basins back into balance.

With this major deadline looming, it’s crunch time for water managers and their consultants – some of whom will begin releasing draft plans in the next six to eight months seeking required public comments.

The Jan. 31, 2020, deadline was set by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which the California Legislature approved in 2014.

Successful implementation of SGMA would protect water quality and supplies for agricultural, municipal and wildlife usage. It would also maintain and improve the health and long-term viability of the ecosystems that sustain these various uses.

San Joaquin Valley groundwater pump (Photo Credit: Chris Austin)

Achieving these sometimes competing goals will not be easy. That’s why implementing SGMA will be a major balancing act. Read More »

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How Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, is becoming a leader in water conservation

Even in the depths of winter it’s easy to bite into a plump blackberry or a delicate red raspberry, thanks to Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company.

In late 2018, I traveled to the Pajaro Valley, west of Santa Cruz, for a tour of a Driscoll’s research facility, which provided an eye-opening view into how this family-owned company has become an agriculture leader selling berries every month of the year, and why they are so committed to water conservation.

Our tour was part of the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, a conference limited to 50 water scholars and senior water managers from around the world. We saw how Driscoll’s sustainability priorities translate into on-the-ground action for the company and its hundreds of independent growers.

Inspired by a presentation by James duBois, Driscoll’s senior manager of global environmental impact, I followed up with him to ask a few questions and dig a bit deeper into the company’s water management efforts. Here is what James shared with me. Read More »

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Three ways the farm bill will help western states adapt to drought

The bipartisan farm bill that President Trump signed into law today contains far-reaching provisions to conserve water and build drought resilience in the American West.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and other western lawmakers recognized the importance of providing more funding to support the region’s crucial and increasingly stressed water systems.

Western legislators secured planning and cost-share funding for groundwater recharge work in California, a critical improvement in the law as producers begin the challenging task of bringing groundwater basins back into balance under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The new provisions in the farm bill also could help farmers and water agencies develop and fund projects that improve drought resilience and planning in the Colorado River basin, where the river supplies water for 40 million people and 6 million acres of farmland each year.

Here are three key provisions that stand out for helping to enable farmers and water managers in the western U.S. adapt to a world with less water: Read More »

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Climate news got you down? Here are 3 bright spots that show promise in building resilience.

The federal government’s National Climate Assessment lays bare the grim future we face if we don’t reign in greenhouse gas emissions and scale up adaptation strategies in a hurry. Lost in most of the media coverage, however, is the fact that industry, government and communities are already coming together to build resilience so that people and wildlife can adapt to a changing climate.

Here are three shining examples. It may surprise you that some of these places are decidedly unblue.  Read More »

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We need a new financial model to address California’s most pressing environmental problems

This post was co-authored by Ann Hayden of Environmental Defense Fund, Katie Riley of Environmental Incentives, and John Cain of American Rivers

Over the coming decade, the state of California will spend billions of dollars to restore habitat to protect endangered species and mitigate infrastructure improvements. But many existing institutions have been stuck in a project-by-project funding model that limits their ability to leverage private capital, integrate different funding sources or even ensure their desired outcomes are achieved.

Without private capital or partnerships, good conservation projects risk getting stuck in the development and permitting stages for decades, or even stalling out indefinitely. This is particularly true for conservation of large landscapes.

Fortunately, a new approach to conserving habitat is building momentum in California that includes proponents beyond just environmentalists. The private sector is taking on more restoration projects, and state agency staff are showing a greater willingness than ever to leverage private sector partnerships and deliver results more quickly. Read More »

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California water leaders offer recommendations for Governor-elect Gavin Newsom

A friend complaining about her skyrocketing water bill. Parents worried about bathing their children in water known to be carcinogenic. Witnessing young salmon once again flourish on seasonal rice fields.

These are just a few of the water stories that colleagues and I, representing a range of sectors within the Central Valley and coastal region of California, shared in a new report that provides recommendations for incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom to create a healthier and more resilient water future for the state.

We believe that sharing our own first-person narratives is a powerful way to highlight the critical importance of engaging neglected constituencies, fostering creative partnerships and developing innovative funding mechanisms for water management in California. Read More »

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It’s not just Congress: More women are working in the water sector, too

A week before voters elected a record number of women into Congress, I found myself attending my first water conference without a single man in the room.

It was the 2018 California H2O Women Conference, and it was unlike any other women’s leadership event I have ever attended.

The focus wasn’t on mentoring, work-life balance or leaning in. Rather, the content was gender-agnostic, addressing the most timely water issues in California today, including Sustainable Groundwater Management Act-driven solutions, the business of water, water recycling and use, and technology and innovation.

The conference theme was adaptation and resilience, which are more relevant than ever as we struggle to address the impacts of climate change, most recently in the form of the worst wildfires in the state’s history. A critical element to creating an equitable and resilient water system involves including not only environmental perspectives, but also disadvantaged communities, farmers, tribes, and, of course, women.More women are working at all levels in the water sector. What this means for resilience: Click To Tweet Read More »

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How the next Colorado governor can make good on a key water goal

Colorado voters will soon choose a new governor. Based on the candidates’ campaign statements and policy proposals, both Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis are committed to implementing Colorado’s Water Plan.

They’re both also receptive to a key element of the plan called Alternative Transfer Mechanisms (ATMs). Here’s why that’s a good thing for Colorado. Read More »

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