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Plan for new California water goals outlined by Gov. Newsom

With California’s snowpack and reservoirs at above-average levels after two wet winters, Gov. Gavin Newsom stood on a snowy field near Lake Tahoe Tuesday and urged the state to do much more to make its water supplies resilient to the extreme droughts and floods that come with climate change.

“These extremes are becoming the new reality, and this new reality requires a new approach,” Newsom said. “California’s water system was designed for a world that no longer exists.”

The governor introduced a new water plan that sets priorities for changing how the state captures, stores and moves water, including efforts to replenish groundwater, recycle wastewater and restore ecosystems natural watersheds.

Newsom said his administration was focused on infrastructure projects such as building the Sites Reservoir — the first major new reservoir in decades — and he pledged to move forward with the proposed project. Delta Transportation Project, a 45-mile tunnel that would transport water beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

“We are seeing real progress. … My goal is to get this authorized by the time you deport me,” Newsom said of the Delta proposal.

Under state limits, he is expected to leave office in January 2027, at the end of his second four-year term.

The governor spoke as the Sierra Nevada snowpack measured 110% of the April 1 average, the typical peak of the snow season. Newsom wore snowshoes as he joined state water managers for their final snow survey of the season.

He said even though the state’s water supplies benefit from two wet winters, Californians still need to keep conservation in mind.

“You can take a deep breath this year, but don’t quadruple the time you spend in your shower,” Newsom said.

The five-year term of the State body of water, which is required by state law, includes what the governor calls a “road map to resilience.” It sets priorities for water infrastructure upgrades, such as upgrading aging dams and increasing the state’s water distribution capacity. It also calls for restoring ecosystems to improve the resilience of “natural infrastructure,” such as aquifers and floodplains along rivers and streams.

The plan calls for accelerating efforts to address historic inequities in water management and to provide solutions for more than 950,000 Californians who rely on systems that have failed to provide clean drinking water.

The plan also includes – for the first time – a chapter focused on the role of Native tribes in water management, calling for “strong collaboration and partnerships” with tribal nations and “integration of indigenous knowledge and practices.

In addition to presenting a list of priority actions, the national water plan includes a detailed assessment of climate risks in different regions of the state.

“California’s adaptive capacity is not keeping pace with the impacts of climate change,” the plan states. “The scale of climate challenges demands a rapid, thorough and coordinated response from all levels of California government. »

Snow was more than 5 feet deep Tuesday at Phillips Station near South Lake Tahoe. Officials noted that nine years ago, then-Gov. Jerry Brown had stood on snowless ground in the same location and declared a drought emergency.

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Over the past decade, California has experienced two severe droughts and then the historic series of atmospheric rivers of 2023, which brought one of the largest snow accumulations on record and triggered devastating flooding in parts of the State.

Newsom noted that this winter started with “very dry” conditions, but storms in February and March pushed the snowpack to above-average levels.

Overall, the state’s major reservoirs are at 116% of average levels and are expected to rise further as snowmelt accumulates.

Lake Shasta is now 93% full and continues to grow with runoff from the latest rains, while Lake Oroville is at 88% capacity, still well above their average levels for this time of year .

But even with reservoirs at healthy levels, California faces complex water management issues, such as fish populations in difficulty and the groundwater depletion in many agricultural areas.

Chronic water shortages from the Colorado River, a key source for Southern California, are also forcing water managers to develop plans to reduce their water use.

Newsom highlighted his administration’s efforts to establish a future “framework” for adapting the state’s water system to the effects of global warming, including diminishing snowpack and longer droughts punctuated by deluges extremes.

He said the state is prioritizing efforts to capture more stormwater and replenish groundwater, while also pursuing major infrastructure projects.

“We are going to build the first new reservoir in half a century in California,” Newsom said, referring to the Reservoir of Sites, planned for a valley north of Sacramento to store water for agriculture and cities.

Another key part of the governor’s water agenda is the delta tunnel, which state officials say would allow them to capture more water during peak winter flows, increasing supplies shipped south to towns and farms via the State Water Project’s aqueducts.

Opponents are trying to block the project in court. Environmental groups, fishing advocates and tribal leaders have said the Delta Conveyance project would harm the delta’s deteriorating ecosystem.

Newsom argued that rebuilding the water system in the Delta is vital if the state is to adapt.

“Delta Conveyance is fundamental. This is essential if we are to address the issue of climate change. It’s a climate project. This is one of the most important projects this state can move forward,” he said.

The state also faces other thorny debates over water management.

State water regulators consider alternatives for new water quality standards this will determine how much water can be extracted from the delta.

At the same time, the Newsom administration is promoting its proposal to rely on “voluntary agreements” in which water agencies would commit to forgoing certain amounts of water and funding projects to improve wetland habitats.

Newsom said he believes this approach is important to overcoming a history of litigation that has hampered progress in water management.

“None of this is easy,” he said. “Water – you can go back to every good quote from Mark Twain. … (It involves) some of the most stubborn and difficult problems that exist, not just here but throughout the western United States.

“I recognized that we have a lot of work to do and that there is a mindset around flexibility, adaptation and moving away from the zero-sum game,” the governor said.

New water plan builds on other initiatives, including the Newsom administration’s plan water supply strategy to adapt to a hotter, drier climate, which predicts California could lose 10% of its water supply by 2040.

“We can no longer take this snowpack for granted,” said Wade Crowfoot, director of the California Natural Resources Agency.

Even with last year’s extensive snowpack and this year’s good snowpack, Crowfoot said, the state could be “heading into a prolonged drought, the worst in its history.”

“So we have to take advantage of every storm when it comes,” he said.

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