Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937
George Kostyrko, State Water Board Communications, (916) 341-7365
As the unprecedented drought continues in California, a number of the state’s coastal rivers and streams are in danger of reaching critically low stages later this summer, threatening rural drinking water supplies. But plans are now in place to assist landowners that store water for use later in the season through a state program.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) announced today that they will expedite approval for the installation of storage tanks by landowners who currently divert water from these important rivers and streams. The action comes under the State Water Board’s Small Domestic Use (SDU) registration program.
Installing tanks to divert and store water when flows are higher will help improve rural water supply reliability and fire safety while also relieving pressure for in-stream diversions during the drier months when fish need it most.
The State Water Board has an existing statewide registration program for domestic use of water, allowing home water uses such as drinking and fire protection. These small domestic registrations must comply with general conditions from the State Water Board and typically receive project specific conditions from CDFW.
Landowners eligible for the SDU program currently can request approval to divert to storage. However, this can be a lengthy process requiring site-specific evaluations that address in-stream and habitat needs.
With today’s action, CDFW has essentially “pre-approved” the installation of storage tanks that meet the general criteria. The State Water Board has agreed to incorporate these criteria as conditions of approval, and to expedite the issuance of the registrations. This action will result in the collection of water during any upcoming precipitation events, taking advantage of higher flows, and using the stored water later in the season when there may be little to no water available.
Some of these water tanks can provide months of storage to meet domestic water supply needs.
“We have been working in these coastal communities for many years, and have good reason to believe that these emergency changes are going to be welcomed,” said Charlton H. Bonham, Director of CDFW. “Many landowners who have wanted to take these steps can do so now more quickly with greater regulatory certainty from our department.”
This action is designed to capture water when it is raining and right after rain events. It is not designed to expand any applicant’s existing water right or amount of diversion. Capturing rain when it falls from the sky and storing it for use later can also help reduce the impacts to fish and wildlife from diverting water from streams during the driest times of the summer. Today’s action was the direct result of suggestions made by local communities and fish conservation organizations such as Trout Unlimited, Mattole River Sanctuary Forest and the Salmonid Restoration Federation.
“The drought is going to be really hard for fish and wildlife as well as agriculture and people,” said State Water Board Executive Officer Tom Howard. “CDFW and the State Water Board are open to any solution from any corner of the state on how to make it through these tough times together.”
Expedited permitting is available to applicants that meet all of the criteria set forth in the program. SDU program eligibility can be found at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/registrations/.
Eligible parties are those that are already diverting from a stream under a riparian basis of right in CDFW Regions 1 or 3. The party should be diverting for domestic and fire protection use only, and has or will install a rigid style water storage tank. The storage tank should be big enough in size to store at least 60 days of water supply for the house.
Parties who are eligible will need to accept the general CDFW conditions, most importantly that they will use the stored water as a substitute for withdrawing additional water during the summer when flows are lowest. The State Water Board will expedite processing of registration forms where the party meets the CDFW eligibility criteria.
This will help protect fish during periods of low stream flow, especially this year with the drought conditions.
With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. The Governor signed legislation to immediately help communities deal with the devastating dry conditions affecting our state and to provide funding to increase local water supplies after it was passed with bipartisan support in the legislature.
Governor Brown met with President Obama about crucial federal support during the ongoing drought, and the state continues to work with federal partners to ensure coordinated drought monitoring and response. Governor Brown and the administration have also expressed support for federal legislation introduced by Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Representatives Jim Costa, Tony Cárdenas and Sam Farr.
Across state government, action is being taken. The Department of General Services is leading water conservation efforts at state facilities, and the California State Architect has asked California school districts and Community Colleges to act on the Governor’s call to reduce water usage. The Department of Transportation is cutting water usage along California’s roadways by 50 percent. Caltrans has also launched a public awareness campaign, putting a water conservation message on their more than 700 electronic highway signs.
In January, the state took action to conserve water in numerous Northern California reservoirs to meet minimum needs for operations impacting the environment and the economy, and recently the Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced they would seek the authority to make water exchanges to deliver water to those who need it most. The State Water Resources Control Board announced it would work with hydropower generators and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to preserve water in California reservoirs, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Fish and Game Commission restricted fishing on some waterways due to low water flows worsened by the drought.
The state is working to protect local communities from the dangers of extreme drought. The California Department of Public Health identified and offered assistance to communities at risk of severe drinking water shortages and is working with other state and local agencies to develop solutions for vulnerable communities. CAL FIRE hired additional firefighters and is continuously adjusting staffing throughout the state to help address the increased fire threat due to drought conditions. The California Department of Food and Agriculture launched a drought website to help farmers, ranchers and farmworkers find resources and assistance programs that may be available to them during the drought.
Even as the state deals with the immediate impacts of the drought, it’s also planning for the future. In 2013, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and CDFA released the California Water Action Plan, which will guide state efforts to enhance water supply reliability, restore damaged and destroyed ecosystems and improve the resilience of our infrastructure.
Governor Brown has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent, and the Save Our Water campaign launched four public service announcements encouraging residents to conserve and has resources available in Spanish. Last December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations and California’s preparedness for water scarcity. In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water.