As a brief history and overview, there are two main water management systems in California. The oldest is the Central Valley Project (CVP), which was dithered over and fought about for 80 years before its inception in 1933. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal was what ultimately enabled the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to put the project in forward motion. It is a series of water management systems, dams, lakes, canals, rivers and pipelines that today provide irrigation water for over 3 million acres of farmland. It includes the Shasta, Trinity River and American River divisions in the Sacramento Valley and the Delta and canal systems, San Joaquin and Stanislaus Rivers and offstream storage and aqueducts in the San Joaquin Valley.
The other primary management system is the California State Water Project (SWP) operated by the California Department of Water Resources, which was established in 1960. The SWP provides drinking water for over 23 million people. The portion of water drawn into the system is allocated 70% to southern California and the bay area and 30% to the central valley for irrigation. It begins with the Feather River and Oroville Dam and flows into the Sacramento river, Delta, the north and bay aqueducts and into the California aqueduct which in turn branches into Coastal, West and East sections.
California added to its water management systems requirements in 2014 with the Sustainable Groundwater Act of 2014. It turns out much of the central valley and parts of southern California have vast aquifers beneath them. These aquifers have capacity to store water without losing it to evaporation as lakes do. Naturally, the aquifers also support the structure and habitats of California. In some regions where groundwater has been overpumped, towns are literally sinking into the vacant spaces left by the missing water.
Heather Dyer, general manager of San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District (SBVMWD), has been a pivotal collaborative force. She began her career as a fish biologist and has risen to the task of bringing the human species together in their common quest for water security and biodiversity. Dyer came to realize, “we are connected in a shared resource,” and the agencies she collaborated with needed to figure out “how to use the resources we have to cohabitate.”
Several entities have formed, all on the shared value of collaboration. The San Bernardino Groundwater Council with its dozen members comprised of water districts, conservation districts, Loma Linda University, and several cities have coalesced behind a common goal: long term viability and sustainability of the region’s groundwater supplies. The Upper Santa Ana River Sustainable Resources Alliance supports a fully integrated environmental compliance program, including a Habitat Conservation Plan, tributaries restoration, mitigation banking of water and environmental permitting efforts in the region to ensure a secure source of water for residents and businesses alike.
Regional special districts can use the San Bernardino Valley shared water cooperation model to break the inertia and get a spirit of cooperation moving. This whole-of-resource approach provides a more comprehensive outcome of efficiency and water security for the people the districts serve.
Dyer said step one is “facing the reality of your situation.” Whether you agree or disagree with the state water infrastructure in place, agencies are not going to be able to undo more than 8 decades of state water policy to go their own way. Your personal feelings about the protection of endangered species will not topple the Endangered Species Act that has been in place for 48 years. The reality of the situation is that our state has a certain infrastructure, regulations and requirements that agencies are bound by. The reality is also that when we pull together, we move in the same direction and each individual effort becomes more streamlined. “Our connectedness builds our resilience,” said Dyer.
Step two is to bring agencies together. Gather in person when possible with the goal of finding commonalities and defining the challenges each agency faces. Define, for each entity involved, what a “win” looks like. Determine what each entity needs, and what resources it can contribute. Be mindful that a Board of Directors is looking for initiatives from a value perspective. Define the ancillary benefits, added efficiencies and broader benefits that come with new collaboration.
Step three: Be Patient. When you get frustrated or fall into old habits of competitiveness, add more patience. Everyone who works in local government knows new ideas, projects and partnerships take time.
Finally, look for your champion. As you work through the first few steps, be aware of those individuals who are rising to the top. They’re the ones who maintain the composure of the group, who keep the various players on task and amenable to the cooperative effort being asked of them. Your champion will be organized, energetic and able to rally people to the call for cooperation. Every Californian, in every water agency, city and resource conservation district, will ultimately have one goal: the commitment to a resilient, long-term water supply for 39.5 million people who call California home.