Water Resources

Water, the lifeblood of the state and its most valuable natural resource, has played a major role in helping shape California's economic growth and landscape since statehood. It has been a very controversial and complex subject and has even led to water wars. In the past, the issue of water related to the problem of transfer because 80% of the water is in Northern California with 60% of the population in the south. Now the issue facing California policymakers is one of water storage -- both surface and groundwater. At the time of this writing, a special session has been called to enact legislation for this issue. In the early years of statehood, miners built miles of flows and ditches in order to divert water to sluice gold out. Miners washed entire mountainsides into rivers and streams. The silt deposited in the riverbeds of the Central Valley increased flood risk. As a remedy to rising riverbeds, levees were built very close to the channels to keep water velocity high and scour away the sediment.

Most of the miners turned into farmers and these farmers began using aquifers to irrigate their farmlands. Various investigations, starting in 1873, were done to survey the Central Valley's irrigation needs and development of the Sierras watershed. In 1887, the Wright Act was enacted declaring irrigation a public use and providing for the creation of public irrigation districts with authority to supersede riparian water rights by invoking the right of eminent domain.

In the early 20th century, the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco started experiencing inadequate water supplies due to increased population. In 1908, Los Angeles started construction of the Owens Valley Aqueduct which diverted water from the Owens Valley located in Inyo County. It was finished in 1913. However, this led to what has become known as the Owens Valley Water War. In retaliation for their crops dying, farmers in Owens Valley, in the 1920s, dynamited the aqueduct and its dams. When it became apparent that Southern California needed additional water in the 1930s, the Colorado aqueduct, along with the All-American and Coachella Canals were built and became operational in 1941.

In San Francisco, the growth of its population made them look at places from where to divert water. Between 1901-1902, the City engineers recommended that water be diverted from Hetch-Hetchy Canyon in Yosemite National Park. The United States Department of the Interior rejected a permit to the City for development. In 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake occurred rupturing the City's water supply lines making it difficult to put out the resulting fires. A Bay Cities water company and utility company offered to sell its water rights to the City on the American and Cosumnes Rivers near Lake Tahoe but it was learned the City's officials were to receive kickbacks from the company. In 1908, the United States Department of the Interior reversed its permit decision and granted San Francisco the right to develop Hetch-Hetchy. In 1909, when President Taft took office, the permit was rescinded. However, the United States Congress, in 1913, passed the Raker Act granting the City the Hetch-Hetchy Canyon and the first water did not reach San Francisco until 1934. At the present time, there is a movement to have Congress restore the Hetch Hetchy Canyon as it was before the diversion of water took place.

In 1928, the voters passed ACA 27 (Crittenden), at the general election, which declared that the general welfare requires water resources be beneficially used, and waste or unreasonable use or unreasonable method of use be prevented, and required conservation for the public welfare. It preserved to the riparian owner all the water to which he or she may be entitled for beneficial use by reasonable method, but required that the unwarranted and needless waste of water shall be prevented. In 1931, the Legislature passed the County of Origin law which prohibited the draining of one area's water supply for the sake of another.

In the 1930s, major developments were taken to provide for the transfer of northern water to the south. The Legislature passed, in 1933, the Central Valley Act authorizing a $170 million bond which was approved by the voters in a special December 19, 1933 election. However, due to the Depression, the bonds were unmarketable and the federal government had to take over the project as a public works project and construction started in 1935.

In the 1940s, outbreaks of waterborne diseases, degradation of fishing and recreational water and war time industrial development and population growth prompted water pollution problems. In 1949, in response to these problems the Legislature passed the Dickey Water Pollution Act which created the State Water Pollution Control Board to set statewide policy for pollution control and coordinating the actions of those state agencies and political subdivisions of the state in controlling water pollution. It established nine regional water pollution control boards located in each of the major California watersheds to oversee and enforce the state's pollution abatement program. The state board was renamed the State Water Quality Control Board. In 1969, the Legislature enacted the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act which became recognized as one of the nation's toughest pieces of anti-pollution legislation and was influential in the passage, on the federal level, of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 known as the Clean Water Act. The State Water Resources Control Board is now the entity which is concerned with water pollution.

In 1956, the Legislature, at a special session called by Governor Goodwin J. Knight, created the Department of Water Resources to develop a state water plan. In 1957, the plan was completed which included a system of reservoirs, aqueducts, pumping and power plants to transport water from the north to the south. In 1959, the Legislature enacted, and Governor Pat Brown signed, the Burns-Porter Act providing initial funding of $1.75 billion in general obligation bonds, and placed it on the 1960 ballot. Compromises were reached in order for the Burns-Porter Act to become law. The north counties were assured that water would be available for future projects and $130 million of the $1.75 billion was earmarked for these projects. The County of Origin and Watershed of Origin Acts were reaffirmed by Burns-Porter. Delta water users were ensured their water uses and that good water quality for all purposes were available with the passage of the Delta Protection Act. For Southern California, the Burns-Porter Act required that the state not impose contracts for the sale and delivery of project water during the lifetime of the bonds. The voters approved the California Water Resources Development Bond (Burns-Porter) Act by a 51.5% to 48.5% margin at the 1960 General Election. The California Water Project now includes the following facilities and projects: Upper Feather River Project, Oroville Reservoir, North Bay Aqueduct, South Bay Aqueduct, San Luis Reservoir, Pacheco Pass Aqueduct, San Joaquin Valley-Southern California Aqueduct, and the Coastal Aqueduct.

The next issue of water was the building of a Peripheral Canal as part of the State Water Project. Construction of such a Canal has been proposed, since 1965, to move Sacramento River water through the eastern delta to the delta pumping plant. The Canal is to permit the release of high quality water into the main channels of the delta. These releases are expected to improve water quality in the channels, protect fisheries, flush lower quality waters from the delta and reduce the intrusion of sea water from the San Francisco Bay into the delta. The Canal would permit additional high quality water to be pumped from the delta to meet the state's contract commitments to water users under the State Water Project.

In 1980, the Legislature enacted SB 200 (Ayala) to expand the State Water Project, to specifically authorize construction of the Peripheral Canal, and to establish policy for operating conditions in the delta. Constitutional initiatives qualified for the ballot by environmentalists requiring constitutional guarantees against placing claims on the north coast rivers and providing strict guarantees for the delta and San Francisco water quality. The voters passed Proposition 8 tying approval of the Peripheral Canal to these environmental restrictions by 53.3% to 46.2%. In late 1982, a referendum qualified for the June 1982 ballot to overturn SB 200, which passed 62% to 38%.

In 1988, SB 34 (Boatwright) was enacted providing for the Delta Flood Protection Fund creating a delta levee maintenance program pursuant to which a local agency may request reimbursement for costs incurred in connection with the maintenance or improvement of project or non-project levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It provided $120 million over 10 years. In 1992, the Johnston-Baker-Andal-Boatwright Delta Protection Act became law mandating the designation of primary and secondary zones within the legal definition of the delta, creating a Delta Protection Commission, and completion of a land use and resource management plan for the primary zone. In 2000, the CalFed Bay-Delta Program published a plan to fix the delta water problems and address its major water challenges over the next 30 years. The Department of Water Resources assumed a leading role in the implementation of the CalFed plan, including programs related to water storage, delta conveyance, delta levee system integrity, watershed management, water use efficiency, and water quality.

Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, prompted the Legislature and Governor to come up with a compromise to fix various infrastructure problems in the state--water being one. The Legislature and the Governor enacted AB 140, the Preparedness and Flood Prevention Disaster Bond Act of 2004, which became Proposition 1E on the 2006 General Election ballot and the voters passed. The bond act provided $4.09 in general obligation bonds for the rebuilding and repairs of California's most vulnerable flood control structures to protect homes and prevent loss of life from flood-related disasters, including levee failure, flash floods, and mudslides and to protect California's drinking water supply system by rebuilding levees that are vulnerable to catastrophes and storms.

On September 11, 2007, the Governor called a special session to protect and restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while also improving the reliability and quality of water supplies from that estuary and to address the short-term and long-term improvement of California's water management system.

The Governor has proposed a $9 billion water infrastructure plan including $600 million from the bond measures passed by the voters in 2006 to relieve pressure on deltas from environmental concerns and to respond to the federal court ruing that will reduce water deliveries to Southern California; $5.6 billion in water storage ($5.1 billion for surface and $500,000 for groundwater); $1.9 billion for delta restoration and water supply reliability; $1 billion in grants for conservation and regional water projects; and $500 million in grants for specified watersheds throughout the state. The Governor also called for a new Peripheral Canal: SB 3XX and 4XX (Cogdill) and AB 4X (Villines).

Senator Perata introduced SB 2XX allowing a $6.5 billion general obligation bond for water supply, reliability, delta sustainability, conservation and pollution cleanup, protection against invasive species, groundwater protection, water quality, and water recycling. SB 2XX was voted on by the Senate and was defeated on a party line vote.

The major difference between the two water plans is that the Governor provides for the building of surface storage facilities (dams) while SB 2XX includes $2 billion for regional grants to improve water supply reliability but does not exclude dams as long as that is the fastest, cheapest and most efficient way to increase water supply. SB 2XX emphasizes regional decision making rather than investing control in the Department of Water Resources. SB 2XX sets up a competitive process in each region to fund the projects that provide the most water at the lowest cost.

On August 31, 2007, Federal Court Judge Oliver Wagner ruled to restrict water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California due to the endangerment of the endangered species delta smelt which has made the water supply issue more complex.

In the 2007 Regular Session, the Legislature enacted and the Governor did sign into law legislation which enhances flood protection in California: SB 5 (Machado) requiring the Department of Water Resources and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board to prepare and adopt a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan by 2012, and establishing flood protection requirements for local land-use decisions consistent with the Central Valley Protection Plan; SB 17 (Florez) reforming and removing the Reclamation Board to the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and improving proficiency, and requiring development of the State Plan of Flood Control for the Central Valley; AB 70 (Jones) providing, generally, that a city or county may be required to contribute a fair and reasonable share of the increased flood liability caused by its unreasonable approval of the developments following the failure of a state flood control project; AB 156 (Laird) enhancing information and planning related to Central Valley flood protection and the improvement of the system by the Department of Water Resources and local agencies; AB 162 (Wolk) requiring cities and counties to address flood-related matters in the land use, conservation, safety , and housing elements of their general plans; AB 5 (Wolk) making clarifying and technical changes to the preceding bills.

Other significant water legislation chaptered into law included: SB 8 (Kuehl) including an environmental foster element in the CalFed Bay-Delta Program; SB 220 (Corbett) enhancing the Department of Public Health regulatory process governing water dispensed from water-vending machines and the labeling requirements for bottled water; SB 276 (Steinberg) allowing state participation in the Folsom Dam modification project to provide a higher level of flood protection on the American River for Sacramento; SB 1029 (Ducheny) establishing timeframes by which regulations relating to maximum contaminant levels for primary and secondary drinking water standards proposed by the Department of Public Health must be reviewed as part of the regulatory adoption process; AB 739 (Laird) establishing criteria for the State Water Resources Control Board and the Department of Water Resources to award grants for stormwater management projects funded by a portion of the proceeds of Proposition 1E flood bonds and Proposition 84 resources bonds approved by voters at the November 2006 elections; AB 740 (Laird) expanding the marine invasive species program by requiring specified inwater cleaning and record keeping for vessels that visit a California port or place, and requires the State Lands Commission to develop regulations governing the management of hull fouling on vessels, by January 1, 2012; AB 800 (Lieu) requiring a person, without regard to intent or negligence, who permits or causes the discharge of sewage or waste in or on any waters of the state, to notify the local health officer or director of environmental health as soon as the person has knowledge of the discharge, and requiring the Office of Emergency Services to immediately notify the appropriate local health officer or director of environmental health, and also upon receiving notification of the discharge, requiring the local health officer or director of environmental health to determine whether notification of the public is required to safeguard public health and safety; AB 783 (Arambula) requiring the Department of Public Health, in administering programs to fund improvements and expansions of small community water systems, to award funds using specifies priorities; AB 901 (Jones) prohibiting possession of alcohol beverages on non-motorized vessels along the American River in Sacramento during three summer holidays; AB 1010 (Hernandez) extending the repeal date of the San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority Act from July 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017, and including reporting requirements; AB 1056 (Leno) allowing the Ocean Protection Council to establish a science advisory team to identify scientific research priorities necessary to protect coastal water and ocean ecosystems and allowing the Council to spend funds without the approval of the State Coastal Conservancy; AB 1130 (Laird) transferring responsibility for the aboveground storage and inspection program and fee collection from the State Water Resources Control Board and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards to the local unified program agencies; AB 1220 (Laird) making a number of substantive and technical amendments pertaining to the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill and Response Act; AB 1280 (Laird) expanding the eligible uses of monies in the California Ocean Protection Trust Fund to include the development of fisheries management plans and authorizing expenditures from the fund for community-based management and allocation strategies that increases incentives for ecosystem improvement; AB 1404 (Laird) requiring the Department of Water Resources, State Water Resources Control Board, and the Department of Public Health to study the feasibility of a coordinated water measurement database; AB 1420 (Laird) conditioning state funding for water management to urban water suppliers on implementation of water conservation measures; and AB 1521 (Salas) requiring that each bottle of water sold in the state identify the source of its contents.

Vetoed water legislation included: SB 178 (Steinberg) establishing a statewide groundwater monitoring program; SB 555 (Machado) removing the authority of the Executive Director of the Delta Protection Commission to unilaterally determine whether an appeal before the Commission raises an applicable issue within the Commission's jurisdiction; SB 862 (Kuehl) making various changes regarding state water reports and planning; SB 1001 (Perata) revising general provisions relating to the powers and duties of regional water quality control boards; and SB 1002 (Perata) appropriating $610.89 million in bond funding to the Department of Water Resources, particularly related to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.