The Barbed Wire - March 20, 2015

March 20, 2015
Governor and Legislative Leaders Announce $1 Billion Drought Package
State Water Board Adopts Emergency Water Conservation Regulation
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Draft Strategic Plan Released
Congressional Budget
EPA Officials Defend Waters of the U.S. Rule
Senate Democrats Introduce Water Infrastructure Bill
Republican Senators Press Tidwell for More Logging
Sacramento Hosts Listening Session on New Floodplain Standard; Public Comment Period Extended

Governor and Legislative Leaders Announce $1 Billion Drought Package

Yesterday Governor Brown joined Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, and Republican Leaders Senator Bob Huff and Assemblymember Kristin Olsen to announce legislation to help local communities cope with the ongoing drought.  The $1 billion legislative package will expedite bond funding to make the state more resilient to the disastrous effects of climate change and help ensure that all Californians have access to local water supplies.

Specifically, the package accelerates $128 million in expenditures from the Governor’s budget to provide direct assistance to workers and communities impacted by drought, and to implement the Water Action Plan.  It also includes $272 million in Proposition 1 Water Bond funding for safe drinking water and water recycling, and accelerates $660 million from the Proposition 1e for flood protection in urban and rural areas.

The Legislature is expected to take up the drought package next week.  The 2015 drought package summary can be accessed here

State Water Board Adopts Emergency Water Conservation Regulation

The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) this week adopted an expanded emergency water conservation regulation as the state enters a fourth year of severe drought.  The existing prohibitions on potable water use, first adopted in 2014, will continue and new prohibitions will go into effect in areas served by a water supplier.   

Californians are now prohibited from:

  • Washing down sidewalks and driveways;
  • Watering outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes excess runoff;
  • Washing a motor vehicle with a hose, unless the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle;
  • Operating a fountain or decorative water feature, unless the water is part of a recirculating system; and,
  • Irrigating turf or ornamental landscapes during and 48 hours following measurable precipitation (new).

New prohibitions affecting commercial business include:

  • Restaurants and other food establishments can only serve water to customers on request; and,
  • Operators of hotels and models must provide guests with the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily and prominently display notice of this option.

In response to questions by counties as to the impacts on unincorporated areas, State Water Board staff stated, “In a nutshell, the implementation of the outdoor irrigation restrictions is tied to the water agency and their service area.  Water supplier service areas can cover both incorporated and unincorporated area, but there are many unincorporated areas that are not served by any water supplier (they rely on groundwater wells, etc.) and therefore would not be subject to the days-per-week limitations of a water shortage contingency plan developed for an urban water supplier's service area.  There is no requirement for a county to develop a plan and impose such restrictions on those areas not served by a water supplier.”

Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Draft Strategic Plan Released

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has released a Draft Strategic Plan (Plan) for its Sustainable Groundwater Program.  The draft Plan describes the DWR’s responsibilities and vision for carrying out the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), and outlines key actions the DWR will undertake over the next several years to position itself to better support local agencies across California to achieve sustainable groundwater management. 

The SGMA directs the DWR to complete multiple activities, including the adoption of regulations for local agency proposed revisions to groundwater basin boundaries, the adoption of regulations for evaluating and implementing local agency prepared groundwater sustainability plans, updating the prioritization of basins, and conducting groundwater assessments into the next decade.

DWR's Groundwater Sustainability Program Draft Strategic Plan:

  • Describes current groundwater conditions in California;
  • Outlines the requirements of the new laws including a timeline;
  • Describes related actions under the California Water Action Plan, the Governor's five-year strategy for more resilient and reliable water resources;
  • Lists key intended outcomes and benefits of implementation of SGMA;
  • Identifies DWR's goals, objectives, and corresponding actions; and,
  • Describes potential challenges and factors that will be key to success, including public outreach and communication.

The DWR will consider all comments before finalizing the plan.  Detailed information on the SGMA and its implementation and instructions for sending comments and suggestions on the Plan can be accessed here.

Congressional Budget

Earlier this week, the House and Senate Budget Committees began debating their respective budget resolutions, which will provide a blueprint for federal spending in fiscal year 2016.  The House is looking to cut federal spending by $5.5 trillion and proposes to balance the federal budget in nine years.  That compares to the Senate, which would reduce federal spending by a $5.1 trillion over the next decade.  Neither the House nor the Senate have proposed to raise revenues.  Once finalized, the congressional budget sets the overall spending caps for the coming fiscal year. 

EPA Officials Defend Waters of the U.S. Rule

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke this week to the National Farmers Union and stated that the EPA is getting ready to send the final rule defining Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) to the Office of Management and Budget.  McCarthy also acknowledged that the agency made a number of mistakes in its rollout of the proposed rule.  

WOTUS has caused consternation and confusion among all the stakeholder groups that would be impacted by the proposed regulations.  Agricultural producers have worried that it could require them to get permits for everyday activities like spraying pesticides or fertilizing their fields, or subject them to costly fines if they fail to do so.  Cities and counties across the U.S. have focused their concerns on impacts to separate storm water systems and roadside ditches.

McCarthy stated that EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are working to develop a final rule that is "not only reasonable, but implementable."  McCarthy also named a handful of topics that she said will be much clearer in the final rule, including the definition of "tributary," what qualifies as an "erosional feature," and which ditches would be covered by the rule.

Speaking two days later before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Assistant Administrator for Water nominee Ken Kopocis said that the agency has met with more than 400 state and local governments, and intends to make changes in the rule based on their concerns about storm water discharges and roadside ditches.  Committee members repeatedly urged the agency to release a revised rule for another round of public comments.  Kopocis claimed that further delay is not necessary and said that the agency is ready to implement the rule before the end of the fiscal year this fall.

Meanwhile, key members of the House and Senate continue to strategize on legislation to scrap the rule and mandate a rule-making process that insures the participation of state and local governments.  Various bills have passed the House in recent years to halt the proposed rule, but none has been adopted by the Senate.

Senate Democrats Introduce Water Infrastructure Bill

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation to create a new federal grant program to assist communities with enhancing and updating their water infrastructure.  The measure (S. 741), which is called "The Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act," would create a five-year, $50 million grant program managed by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would split the cost with local communities for a range of adaptation and upgrade activities.  

The types of programs the measure would cover include those aimed at conserving water, modifying or relocating water infrastructure, improving water quality, designing or building water recycling systems, enhancing energy efficiency, building green infrastructure, improving irrigation efficiency on agricultural land and reducing flood risk by restoring wetlands and floodplains.

Republican Senators Press Tidwell for More Logging

U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Tom Tidwell was called to testify this week in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies to discuss the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for the agency.  Chief Tidwell defended the agency’s budget request, but also acknowledged the agency needs to be doing more in order to properly manage the nation’s forests.  Tidwell testified the proposed budget increase for FY16 would allow the USFS to sell an additional 3.2 billion board feet of logged timber, and perform 1.7 million acres of hazardous fuels treatments, a 10 percent increase from 2015.  

The USFS’s wildfire budget was also discussed.  Chief Tidwell expressed the need to adjust the way the government funds fire suppression through the agency.  Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stopped short of publicly supporting the President’s proposed plan to shift suppression funds to the emergency disaster fund but did state the need to work with her colleagues to fix the problem known as “fire-borrowing.”   

Sacramento Hosts Listening Session on New Floodplain Standard; Public Comment Period Extended

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is conducting a series of listening sessions across the country to solicit public input on a new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS).  The session in Sacramento last week drew 150 participants, including representatives from RCRC.  The new FFRMS was released with a new Executive Order 13690 that calls upon all federal agencies to expand their individual definitions of a floodplain and exercise greater scrutiny of any federal action in the floodplain.  While the Standard and the Executive Order will not change, FEMA is asking the public to comment on implementation guidance that federal agencies will follow as they develop their own regulations and policy for avoiding development in the floodplain.  FEMA announced this week that the public comment period has been extended an additional 30 days to May 6, 2015.  

Some participants in the Sacramento session expressed support for the new Standard, while other business organizations and floodplain managers raised concerns for the prospect that every federal agency will have the discretion to define the floodplain differently from other agencies.  Rather than rely on the floodplain identified on FEMA maps, federal agencies are directed to expand the floodplain and the breadth of their permits, licenses, loans, grants, or other federal action based on climate change science, additional elevation requirements, or the 500-year floodplain.  


Proposition 1 Program Development Schedule Updated

The draft Proposition 1 Program Development Schedule has been updated as of March 13, 2015.  The updated schedule can be accessed here.  The document will continue to be updated as timelines are finalized and appropriations are approved. 

Proposition 1 Water Recycling Workshops

The State Water Board, Division of Financial Assistance, announced three Proposition 1 Water Recycling Funding Program (WRFP) Public Workshops in April 2015.  Proposition 1 allocates $725 million in funding for recycled water and desalination projects, and the workshop will present the draft amended WRFP guidelines and the proposed plan to implement Proposition 1 Water Recycling funding.  Stakeholders will have the opportunity to provide State Water Board staff with feedback and input on the draft guidelines.  Detailed information on the workshops can be accessed here.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan Comments Posted

Friends of the River has posted comments on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) obtained from government agencies after making a demand for the comments under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  This action was in response to a decision on the BDCP agencies part to stop posting comments on their website in December 2014. 

All public comments submitted by public agencies and organizations during the official public comment period can be accessed here.

State Water Board Drinking Water Loan and Grant Program Scoping Workshops

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