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Last Friday, April 29th, Governor Newsom urged Coastal Commission approval of the Poseidon desalination plant proposal for Huntington Beach that Coastal Commission staff had recommended against in their report issued Monday, April 25th.  I had read and saved the Los Angeles Times enewspaper summary of the staff report on it by Ian James, “Desalination plant: boon or boondoggle?” (updated April 25th) and the staff conclusion and recommendations reported there seemed sound to me.  So I was shocked, as I groggily consumed my Saturday morning coffee, to read Paul Rogers’ front page piece on the governor’s comments about it in the Mercury News e-edition.  The online version, Newsom: Desalination project should be approved — “We need more damn tools in the toolkit” is marked “Subscriber Only” but Maven’s Notebook May 1st Daily Digest, Weekend Edition shares a link to the article via the Denver Gazette.

Governor Newsom is quoted there as follows:

“We need more tools in the damn tool kit,” Newsom said during a meeting with the Bay Area News Group editorial board when asked about the project. “We are as dumb as we want to be. What more evidence do you need that you need to have more tools in the tool kit than what we’ve experienced? Seven out of the last 10 years have been severe drought.”

Raymond, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tell that to your staff at the California Natural Resources Agency, Governor!!!  Once  the initial shock passed, I found myself driven to distraction by this news.  The governor is apparently rejecting Coastal Commission staff’s presumably detailed evaluation in the name of climate change impacts, which I’m guessing the staff fully evaluated, yet his Natural Resource Agency (CNRA) has been consistently rejecting the catchment (a.k.a. watershed) restoration proposed here, which offers a far less costly, far more environmentally sound tool than what I understand about the Poseidon desalination proposal.

I was not planning to write a blog post in the immediate future, but I just cannot let this slide – I need to emote!  And since I just can’t generate much enthusiasm for social media, this is where I do it.  Perhaps the actual explanation for Newsom’s push for the Huntington Beach project is that the Poseidon backers have far more money and hence political influence than I do.  But if the Governor is true to his word on this, why doesn’t he give the Rainfall to Groundwater approach a comparable boost?  

Oh, I know – he’s never heard of it because his Natural Resource Agency staff remains too ignorant to recognize a viable tool when they see one and too incurious to try asking me any questions about it at all, so they’ve dismissed it at every opportunity.  Clearly, they want to be “dumb” about it as Newsom quipped.   I’m referring to CA Water Plans 2010 and 2018; initial input to SGMA in 2016, including 100 pages of topical bibliographies; Water Available for Replenishment (WAFR), the Water Resilience Portfolio and the 30 x 30 reports supposedly touting “nature-based” solutions, including for working lands – the primary focus of R2G being rangelands.

Todd Quackenbush toddquackenbush, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Rainfall to Groundwater approach is absolutely a water resilience solution/ tool and it doesn’t get more nature-based than this.  If there was some Regulator of Government Influence I would definitely request “equal time” with the Poseidon backers.

I seriously doubt that the Governor feels more concerned about the recent impacts of climate change than I do.  Since his purview spans all state issues, I’m guessing the revelations of the past few years of climate change impacts and implications are taking up more space in my brain than in his.  And since I know he likes to tout our state’s supposed “forward thinking”, please observe just how far behind California remains compared with others elsewhere seriously considering and applying science to the relationship of catchment health to local and regional water resources – see blog post #14. Who Values Catchments More Than CA?.

While I had not planned a post, so this one may be less thematic than some others in the past, for a while I had been mulling adding a new page to the Alternate Paradigms section – Anthropocentrism vs Ecocentrism and I generated that first, off the top of my head – some tweaking may be in order for the future.

Anthropocentrism really is among the fundamental reasons the powers that be can’t grasp catchment restoration, so now that takes its place alongside the other paradigmatic problems that blind our state’s water resources crowd to the efficacy of restoring degraded catchment functions. 

I cannot say I’ve read the recently published reports, Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy and the Final Pathways to 30×30: Accelerating Conservation of California’s Nature .  I was pleased to learn from Brock Dolman, beaver believer at Occidental Arts & Ecology Center that beavers actually got a couple positive mentions in the former report.  So there’s some progress 😉 .

[BTW, field trip attendees at the January 2017 California Rangelands Conservation Coalition would know that a beaver dam on a San Joaquin County ranch was among the highlights – all were intrigued.  So CNRA does seem to be lagging somewhat behind the rangeland conservation cognoscenti on this.]

I did attend the April 26th webinar on the two final reports, California Pathways to 30×30 and Natural Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy Overview.  I came away from that with the impression that the state will offer funding for riparian and floodplain restoration – fairly typical stuff, but truly great that it will be funded.

In the past, funding for ecological restoration not tied to mitigation for offsite impacts has been fairly difficult to come by.  The frustration has long been that so much ecosystem restoration is needed, beyond mitigation projects, so the funding proposed in these documents is indeed exciting.

But my biggest complaint is that the overriding emphasis on sinks vs source ignores the fact that we can better support all these wetlands if we restore the natural ecohydrological functions of the catchments that feed them where these functions have been unwittingly degraded through human land uses – the case for our state’s vast nonnative annual grasslands a.k.a. rangelands.

Hands down, my favorite question asked during that virtual meeting was that posed by Riobart Breen at 12:39 PM (so about that far into the recording):

We appear to be drawing lines between climate adaptation and climate mitigation efforts in the US (and globally), with maybe 95% of climate policy efforts and funding going into climate mitigation (GHG reductions).  How have you been able to integrate adaptation efforts with mitigation efforts in your NWL [Natural and Working Lands] strategy.

I appreciated that because it has also been my impression that our state’s efforts to deal with climate change are all about carbon, all the time.

CNRA Secretary Wade Crowfoot directed that question to Amanda Hansen, Deputy Secretary for Climate Change, who offered the response.  I’m not up for an exact transcription but the first thing she stated was that one of the most powerful arguments for investing in nature-based solutions is that they often offer adaptation and mitigation benefits simultaneously.  She cited the agency’s investments to increase forest health, making them more resilient to future climate change and thus making them “more likely to be stable carbon stocks”, less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire.  She noted that this is true for many nature-based solutions.

Interestingly, she pointed out that, “taking a step back”,  it was not long ago that the need for adaptation strategies was considered something we’d need to deal with in the future, whereas the past few years have convinced us the need to adapt is already upon us – “actually we’re on the front lines”.  She sees within state agencies an “incredible ramp up” in response, both in terms of policy and investments.

But through all these good efforts there really is no state strategy for adapting our state’s WATER resources to rapidly accelerating climate change.  I agree that the impacts have surprised us in recent years but I have repeatedly proposed a strategy that state agencies have consistently ignored out of their own ignorance – being as “dumb” as they want to be, in Newsom’s words.

Among the scariest ways anthropogenic climate change is impacting water resources is through increasing evaporative demand, as I noted in blog post 15. Catchment Restoration for Biodiversity, Climate Change Resilience, citing Pascolini-Campbell and colleagues (2021)   A more recent assessment by Albano and colleagues (2022) is summarized by the Desert Research Institute (DRI) here:  New study shows robust increases in atmospheric thirst across much of U.S. during past 40 years April 6, 2022.

As I pointed out in that February post, this would seem to make surface water storage and even surface conveyance subject to increased evaporative losses in a climate that appears to be warming in real time.  I elaborated on that issue in my comments on the Prop 1 WSIP Feasibility Determination for Pacheco Dam Project December 15, 2021 Commission Meeting, noting that that proposed project – darned expensive for offering no additional new water (among other problems) – involves three sources of evaporative losses in 1.) the California Aqueduct, 2.) San Luis Reservoir and 3.)  the proposed new reservoir.  

CNRA is aware of the issue, even emphasizing the need to store water below ground, as I quoted them in those comments.  The commission’s approval despite the project’s questionable feasibility on several fronts definitely suggested Newsom may have put his thumb on that scale, as well, perhaps hoping to placate the More Water Now folks at the time, whose cadre apparently have yet to comprehend how this increasing evaporative demand with climate warming issue will impact all existing and proposed surface water storage in California and certainly throughout the southwestern U.S..

In February we had the news of Turlock Irrigation District winning a state grant to cover canals with solar panels in a demonstration project.  I thought that was a brilliant idea and a quick search led me to this 2021 piece from ABC 10:  UC Merced study: Solar panels over California canals ‘makes a lot sense’ in renewable future – April 7, 2021.  ‘Figures Roger Bales was behind it.

However, it’s hard to imagine floating solar panels may someday cover surface water reservoirs – questionable for maintenance and the visual impacts would likely be enormous.  Ugh!

Speaking of Distinguished Professor Roger Bales at UC Merced, he was among the panelists in the excellent webinar offered April 7th by Pacific Forest Trust: Seeing the Forest for the Water.  Chris Austin did her typically skillful job of documenting it on Mavens Notebook, for which I’m grateful.  Professor Bales emphasized the need for regional partnerships to manage forests for water resource benefits.  I so concur and so wish to support such efforts, but with rangelands as the focus in my case.  

Finally, I noticed in the April 29 Sustainable Groundwater Management News, under Upcoming News and Events:  UC Davis Short Course: “Introduction to Groundwater, Watersheds, and Groundwater Sustainability Plans”.  Perhaps they can get the water agencies to make the (seemingly obvious) connection where I have apparently failed over the past four years.

But meanwhile, what about this “damn tool”, Governor Newsom?.

 

Verna Jigour, PhD.

Citations

 

Albano, C. M., J. T. Abatzoglou, D. J. McEvoy, J. L. Huntington, C. G. Morton, M. D. Dettinger, and T. J. Ott. 2022. A multidataset assessment of climatic drivers and uncertainties of recent trends in evaporative demand across the Continental United States. Journal of Hydrometeorology 23:505–519. https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-21-0163.1  

Pascolini-Campbell, M., J. T. Reager, H. A. Chandanpurkar, and M. Rodell. 2021. A 10 per cent increase in global land evapotranspiration from 2003 to 2019. Nature 593:543–547. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03503-5

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