State Water Resources Control Board Chair Says Climate Change Impacting Water Policy

The chair of the State Water Resources Control Board says climate change is presenting new challenges to water management.

One-third of California’s water storage is typically contained in winter snow pack. With drought conditions and warmer temperatures, that snow does not fall in adequate amounts or falls as rain and cannot all be stored for the spring runoff, Felicia Marcus said at a recent visit to the California Energy Commission.

“Losing our snowpack is a Mack truck coming at us that is going to make the squabbles around water we have today seem like a picnic,” she said.

That’s all the more reason she said to find ways to work together and seek solutions that puts water to the highest beneficial and multiple uses possible. Marcus points to rice farmers flooding fields at times when waterfowl migrate through the Central Valley or some farmers having water delivered later than normal so the water can also serve as the cold water needed for salmon returning to rivers to spawn.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is the way we talk about water,” she said.

Marcus said the adversarial dialogue that places farmers against urban dwellers, the north state versus the south, and environmentalists against developers is a repeat of the conversation that has gone on for decades. Californians need to step outside the historical discourse and seek compromises that benefit all.

The State Water Board implements water rights, regulates water quality, manages the drinking water regulatory program, and has a financial assistance program that provides loans and grants. During the current drought, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. granted the State Water Board authority to set emergency conservation measures for urban Californians.

The State Water Board reported that monthly water conservation for September 2016 was 18 percent, up from the month before, but below the savings of a year ago. As California enters what could be a sixth year of drought, the State Water Board leader Marcus stressed the need for continued conservation.

The call for cooperation only intensifies with climate change impacts including the expectations of sea levels rising, water contamination persisting, a growing population, and infrastructure challenges, Marcus said.

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California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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