News Feature | November 17, 2016

New California Law May Unleash ‘Billions Of Dollars' For Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in October expanding the scope of what is considered water infrastructure in the state.

The measure officially defines source watersheds “as integral components of California’s water infrastructure.” It will make source watersheds “eligible for the same forms of financing as other water collection and treatment infrastructure.”

The legislation says climate change is an impetus for the policy shift: “As climate change advances, source watersheds that provide the majority of the state’s drinking and irrigated agricultural water are of particular importance to maintaining the reliability, quantity, timing, and quality of California’s environmental, drinking, and agricultural water supply,” the measure says.

The significance of the legislation, per GreenBiz, is that it is now “possible to funnel billions of dollars in infrastructure finance towards the restoration of forests and the maintenance of meadows, streams and rivers, accelerating a decades-old trend towards the use of ‘natural infrastructure’ to manage water supplies.”

In the past, California has done very little to address source watersheds in legislation. Why now? Laurie Wayburn, president of conservation group Pacific Forest Trust and a proponent of the legislation, chimed in.

"California has stretched its water supplies to the breaking point and we recognized that the likely least costly and most effective way to increase the reliability and quality, as well as quantity, was to address chronic, critical degraded conditions threatening the primary source watersheds," she said, per GreenBiz.

The watersheds affected by the legislation have a significant impact on the state’s drinking water supply. “These watersheds provide the vast majority of the water for the State Water Project, supplying drinking water for more than 25 million people, irrigation for 8 million of acres of farmland and 85 percent of the water to San Francisco Bay,” according to a Sacramento Bee editorial supporting the legislation, penned by is California state treasurer John Chiang.

Some doubts about the effectiveness of the legislation remain.

“The bill is short, a couple paragraphs, with sparse details on how state officials will roll out the restoration activities,” according to GreenBiz. Jim Branham, executive officer at the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, “admitted it’s difficult to tell how successful this law will be or what kind of an impact it will have. However, it’s better to have this language in statute than not when making investment decisions, he said.”

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