The California Water Action Plan sets three overarching goals for the state’s water future: 1) develop resilient water resource systems, 2) restore critical species and habitat, and 3) create reliable water supplies. Local governments are critical partners in achieving these goals.
The California Water Action Plan seeks to establish a “more sustainably-managed water resources system” in order to withstand climate change impacts. This is a difficult task considering our state’s fragile natural resource system. Over 90% of California wetlands, which naturally absorb floodwaters and filter out pollution, have been lost to development. 127 of the state’s 515 groundwater basins – the state’s water savings account for dry periods – are currently overdrafted. We’re pumping water out faster than we can replenish it.
Local, regional, and state agencies are called to achieve resilience in the face of decreased snowpack, increased flood risks, and a growing population. This requires upgrading infrastructure and modifying management practices while also protecting natural ecosystems.
City of Malibu Case Study
The city of Malibu is encouraging developers and homeowners to reduce their water use through graywater reuse. Minimum standards for residential graywater reuse systems were approved by the California Building Standards Commission in 2007, updating Chapter 16A of the California Plumbing Code. Malibu’s General Plan now includes a graywater policy, stating “New development shall include a separate graywater treatment system where feasible” (Policy 3.123), and the city created a “Graywater Handbook” with guidelines, resources, and techniques to help homeowners and developers integrate graywater systems into their projects. The city even compensates developers and homeowners that apply for a Laundry Graywater Disposal Systems (LGDS) permit and plan review.
California’s natural resources – our “green infrastructure” – have been depleted as a result of human development. Many of our state’s rivers lack sufficient flow to keep important wildlife species alive and flush out pollutants. Our overgrown forests are more susceptible to disease and wildfire, posing a significant environmental and public safety threat, while also reducing water supply downstream. We must restore our natural ecosystem functions in order to ensure a safe, reliable drinking water supply and a flourishing environment for future generations.
Local governments can protect and restore impacted habitat and waterways in their jurisdiction. Enacting policies to protect existing lands and implementing local restoration projects will help ensure future resilience.
Irvine Ranch Water District Case Study
Natural treatment systems are a unique way to promote wetland restoration, mitigate the effects of urban runoff, create community assets, and cut costs. The San Diego Creek Watershed Natural Treatment System (NTS), developed by the Irvine Ranch Water District, is a watershed-based approach to solving regional water quality problems. The system establishes man-made wetlands throughout the San Diego Creek Watershed that use natural plants and soils to remove pollutants from urban runoff – especially from chemical lawn treatments that wash off people’s yards. The system removes 126,000 lbs of nitrogen and 21,000 lbs of phosphorus from runoff each year, and reduces fecal coliform levels by more than 25%. Project Manager Norris Brandt notes that the system has been well received because it “uses existing public lands and natural processes to clean the creek water instead of expensive man-made structures like treatment plants.” The established wetlands also provide wildlife habitat and open space, and costs significantly less than building traditional “grey” wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.
The California Water Action Plan seeks to establish a reliable water supply for all water users. Our natural cycle of wet winters and dry summers will become more challenging in the face of climate change, as dry periods become longer and more severe, and rainfall comes in fewer but heavier storms. The natural snowpack storage that feeds the rivers our water system relies on will be significantly diminished in coming years. Desalination is a costly option and only feasible in some areas. An over reliance on groundwater is unsustainable. To increase reliability, we must take advantage of all available options: a) diversifying our statewide water supply portfolio, b) improving local self-reliance, and c) reducing overall water demand through conservation and efficiency.
Local governments play an instrumental role in improving statewide water supply reliability. Acting as a bridge between State and Regional officials and the general public, cities and counties can reduce water demand in their communities and develop local water supplies.
WE CAN Case Study
The Local Government Commission’s WE CAN (Water-Energy Community Action Network) reduces local water use and greenhouse gas emissions through landscape upgrades. WE CAN provides turf replacement and irrigation efficiency rebates for single- or multi-family homes, institutional properties, and commercial properties throughout Fresno County. LGC partnered with Habitat for Humanity, local landscapers, and employment development organizations to offer direct install services to residents who cannot afford the upfront costs of a rebate program. Fresno County residents and businesses can now have a beautiful climate-appropriate outdoor landscape and reduce their monthly water bill through water-efficient irrigation systems and drought-tolerant plants.
The program is funded through the California Climate Investments program, and is supported by the Governor’s Initiative AmeriCorps Program, CivicSpark. In addition to providing $1.8 million in landscape rebates and direct install services, WE CAN is also preparing local landscapers and gardeners to respond to the growing demand for water-efficient landscaping by providing Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) certification courses. WE CAN is also educating the community about water-efficient practices, and the connection between water use, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions.