The Freshwater Trust shortlisted for prize in California Water Policy Challenge

November 13, 2015

The Freshwater Trust has been placed on the shortlist in Imagine H20’s 2015 California Water Policy Challenge.

Imagine H20 is a nonprofit based in San Francisco, California, seeking to “inspire and empower people to turn water challenges into opportunities.”

The organization’s competition was designed to source policy ideas that will accelerate the deployment of water technologies to improve water resource management in the Golden State. The competition accepted 140 submissions.

“California is currently experiencing what some estimate to be the severest drought in 1,200 years,” said Mike Joliffe, conservation systems analyst with The Freshwater Trust. “The decline in snowpack has reduced surface water availability and driven water users to increase groundwater extractions, thereby reducing aquifers to record lows. Simultaneously, severe floods threaten human safety and property. And climate change will only exacerbate these problems.”

The 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. For the competition, The Freshwater Trust proposed supporting existing legislation that would make recharge a beneficial use, and the adoption of SGMA regulations that would require 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, flood and groundwater agencies would cooperate to fund projects that divert floodwaters for field application and eventual recharge into the aquifer. The recharge would be quantified so that the GSA could reward qualified landowners for their participation with credits to offset their future extractions. Similarly, the GSA could reward flood control agencies for their role in developing credits that it can sell to fund its operations. The GSAs’ income from extraction fees would exceed these payments, thereby making the credit expenses a viable method to meet sustainability goals.

“This policy would incentivize coordination for infrastructure needed to facilitate such a program, thus advancing the agencies’ differing missions,” said Joliffe. “Landowners and the flood districts both would receive a direct incentive to participate.”

Imagine H20 recently cited a UC Davis study finding that California’s drought has resulted in an estimated $2.7 billion in lost revenue and 18,600 lost jobs. According to the organization, policy that enables the deployment of water technology would not only address the state’s water challenge, but also create new economic opportunities, now and in the future.

Winners of the competition will be determined by an independent panel of California water leaders. Finalists will participate in a showcase event in Sacramento in early 2016 after receiving mentorship from leading water policy experts. The winning entry will also receive up to $25,000 in support.

“California currently faces unprecedented water supply issues with climate change greatly exacerbating the existing shortage,” said Chris Thomas, staff attorney with The Freshwater Trust. “It will take innovative, and at times novel, solutions to ensure adequate water supplies for both California’s population and economy.”

Interested in helping The Freshwater Trust continue to innovate and come up with new ways to fix our freshwater resources?

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