The Board of Supervisors this week decided on two plans aimed at increasing local water supplies in a time of sustained drought and pressure from federal regulators.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl authored two motions, one seeking to coordinate the capture of stormwater runoff countywide and the other calling for a net zero water ordinance for unincorporated areas of the county.
“Federal and state regulators are tired of waiting for the county and its 88 cities to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act,” Kuehl said, adding that penalties could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We’re required to do it,” Kuehl said, proposing a Drought Resiliency Work Plan focused on capturing rainfall and preventing runoff of trash and toxic substances.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich said water conservation efforts should focus on building new reservoirs funded with state water bonds already approved by voters.
Kuehl said a broader approach was needed and she was “trying to find the fairest way to pick up this tab because we’re not going to avoid it.”
Antonovich was concerned that the drought plan would look too much like a 2013 effort to fund stormwater projects through a fee on property owners, despite protests to the contrary.
“The property owners will still have to pay,” Antonovich said, adding that would hurt seniors on fixed incomes.
In March 2013, the Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure, championed by former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky as a way to pay for stormwater runoff projects, was defeated on a 4-1 board vote.
The failed measure proposed an annual fee—estimated at $54 for a typical single-family home—to pay for green infrastructure.
Opponents objected to the fee, calling it a tax on rain, as well as to the allocation of funding, selection of projects and the process for approving the measure.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, “It wasn’t a pretty picture … three years ago … We’re trying to get it right now.”
The board directed the Department of Public Works to report back in 45 days with a plan and to submit a recommendation for funding the plan 90 days out.
No details of any plan or funding mechanism were outlined in Kuehl’s motion, co-authored by Supervisor Hilda Solis. However, the board vote anticipates submitting the plan to voters in November if adopted by the supervisors.
Rep. Steve Knight (CA-25) last month signed a letter to President Obama urging him to immediately increase water exports to Southern California from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The letter was authored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) and stated that two federal agencies failed to take advantage of the El Nino storms in Northern California by impeding the Department of Reclamation’s ability to export much-needed water south of the Delta.
“While we need collaboration among different levels of government, we more urgently need specific leadership from our chief executive,” the letter stated. “That specific leadership is simple: a clear message to the relevant federal agencies to increase—not decrease—pumping over and above 5,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) to take full advantage of these recent storms—perhaps the last of the season.”
Knight added that Congress must pass legislation that will deliver more relief to the drought-stricken state, despite the heavy downpours that hit Northern California.
“In the meantime, we must take advantage of the rains from El Nino to send water to homes and businesses in Southern California,” Knight said.