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November 2009

Historic Water Legislation Signed into Law
By Jeffrey Kightlinger, General Manager

On November 6, – just two days after the California Legislature passed a historic legislative water package – Governor Schwarzenegger signed the first of the five bills into law at a ceremony in Los Angeles.

When the Legislature approved the package of water reforms on November 4, it put California on a long-term path to a sustainable, reliable water future after years of discussion, debate and effort.

Here in Southern California, we have planned as a region to do the necessary things to increase our water supplies and lower our demands to meet the needs of growth amid climate change and environmental restrictions. But we can only do so much as a region. The entire state needs a comprehensive water plan that meets the needs of the economy and the environment. Now we have that plan.

The true effects of this historic legislative action will take years to take full form. In the short term, the entire state will continue to face unprecedented water challenges. But for the long term, the Governor and the Legislature have set a course to reliability.

This package of legislative reforms places the hub of our statewide water system and California’s most important estuary, the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, on a path to recovery. A healing ecosystem will translate into a more reliable water system for the Bay Area, Central Valley farmers and Southern California.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California provides over half of the water supply for our six-county region from two imported sources -- the Colorado River and the State Water Project in Northern California. Our supply system is built around capturing water reserves in wetter periods in order to survive the inevitable dry cycles. This basic strategy, which helped to prevent water shortages in Southern California for 18 consecutive years is undermined because of the problems in the Delta.

The Delta is a struggling ecosystem. Invasive species account for about 95 percent of the estuary’s biomass. Wastewater discharges from upstream communities are increasing. Water diversions in and upstream of the Delta are impacting fisheries. As fish populations have decreased, environmental regulations of Delta water supplies have increased.

The result is a constricted statewide water system. Southern California’s water supplies from Northern California that must travel through the Delta have been reduced on average by 30 percent.

Ironically, the biggest cut in supplies will come when the rains return, preventing Metropolitan from replenishing Southern California’s network of reservoirs and groundwater basins.

The solution for the Delta, in a word, is comprehensive. At the center of this package is the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. This is the emerging strategy to couple the restoration of the Delta ecosystem and the update of its water conveyance system. It is being created by federal and state wildlife agencies, water districts and environmental groups.

The Legislature provided direction on how the Bay Delta Conservation Plan can result in a recovering estuary and a reliable water supply. The legislative package also has created a better Delta governance structure. It has created new statewide water management mandates that will create fair and reachable conservation goals for urban water districts. And the reforms ensure that groundwater basins throughout the state will be closely and carefully monitored through locally controlled programs.

It will take a number of years to make the changes in the Delta and many more to complete thousands of acres of habitat restoration. Even when a more sustainable Delta has been established, Southern California will have to continue to carefully manage its imported resources, to conserve and to expand local supplies. But this is a turning point from a worsening situation to a brighter future.

This historic and comprehensive package reflects the successful completion of a decades-long effort by Metropolitan and many other water districts and stakeholders to forge a new direction for the Delta, where deteriorating environmental conditions have led to unprecedented water supply restrictions.

Governor Schwarzenegger, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, minority leaders Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth and Assemblymember Sam Blakeslee, and legislators on both sides of the aisle should all be commended for their leadership in getting this historic legislation approved. And we can all be proud of the integral, leadership role that Metropolitan played in forging the consensus necessary to enact this sweeping, historic package.

This newsletter is produced by the:
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
700 N. Alameda St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012