The Freshwater Trust places as finalist in water policy challenge

January 28, 2016

The Freshwater Trust has been named one of three finalists in Imagine H20’s California Water Policy Challenge.

The Freshwater Trust, Greywater Action and WaterNow Alliance were recognized for their submissions to the inaugural initiative, which seeks to advance the market for water innovation through forward-thinking policy.

“We’re happy to be recognized among such an esteemed group,” said Chris Thomas, staff attorney with The Freshwater Trust. “Fixing the water quantity issues California faces right now requires innovation and thinking outside the box. Imagine H20 challenged us to do just that.”

Imagine H2O, a water innovation accelerator, says it launched the California Water Policy Challenge to highlight the need to overcome regulatory barriers to innovation and catalyze public-private collaboration on policy design and implementation. More than 100 submissions were received from academia, the private sector, government entities and NGOs. Successful applicants presented actionable policy recommendations to drive adoption of water technologies by California’s cities, farms and industries.

For the competition, The Freshwater Trust proposed an innovative groundwater recharge crediting paradigm that would foster improved coordination and collaboration among groundwater, flood control, and irrigation agencies by aligning water management incentives.

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was enacted in 2014 to provide a framework for the sustainable management of groundwater supplies by local authorities. Under this legislation, local and regional authorities will form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA) that oversee the implementation of a local Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Local stakeholders have until 2017 to organize themselves into these agencies and until 2040 to achieve groundwater sustainability. The act however currently does not mandate that the agencies consider flood management, and the flood control agencies lack incentives to favor supply-harnessing projects.

The Freshwater Trust proposed supporting existing legislation that would make groundwater recharge a beneficial use, and the adoption of Sustainable Groundwater Management Act regulations that would encourage agencies to include in their groundwater sustainability plans an assessment of opportunities for voluntary recharge crediting programs that address groundwater and flooding.

Under the envisioned approach, local water agencies and landowners would cooperate to divert winter floodwaters for field application and eventual recharge into the aquifer. The GSA would quantify the recharge benefit and reward participating landowners with credits that could be sold to other water users or banked for future use. Similarly, the GSA would reward flood control agencies and irrigation districts for their role in developing good recharge projects by disbursing credits to those entities for use or sale. Flood control agencies and irrigation districts could then use proceeds from the sale of credits to defray SGMA implementation costs, reducing the overall burden of SGMA implementation that would pass through to individual residents of the basin.

Mike Jolliffe, applied research scientist at The Freshwater Trust, laid out the ultimate objective of the proposal: “We think this approach incentivizes integrated management of water resources,  promotes utilization of low-cost infrastructure that is flexible, low-impact, and long-lived, and reinforces the importance of working farms and floodplains in California’s future.”

The Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) teamed up on the winning proposal. The partnership presented a case for how discrete policy improvements to water reuse and recycling standards could incentivize water users to deploy on-site treatment technologies.

The finalists and winner will be featured at a forum in Sacramento on February 9, 2016.

“We look forward to discussing how our proposal as well as the others nominated can contribute to a more resilient water future that mutually benefits both people and the environment,” said Thomas. “Perhaps the most exciting part of all of this is that the proposals coming out of this competition are actionable and show real potential for addressing drought in California.”

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