Newsom: California Must Boost Water Recycling, Desalination

FILE – California Governor Gavin Newsom answers questions at a news conference in Los Angeles, on June 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California should invest tens of billions of dollars in water recycling, storage and desalination over the next two decades to shore up its supply as the state gets drier and hotter, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a proposal released Thursday.

It comes as drought continues to grip the U.S. West and the state prepares to lose 10% of its water supply by 2040, according to projections by the Department of Water Resources. The Democratic governor was set to discuss the proposal at the construction site of a plant to remove salts from river water that should be fresh, the type of project he said the state needs more of in the coming years.

His proposed water recycling targets, which would make treated wastewater safe for drinking, would cost $27 billion by 2040, his proposal said. That was the biggest price tag associated with the plan, which also relies on billions in money already approved in past state budgets. The plan envisions that money coming from both state and federal sources.

In total, he wants to boost water annual supply by nearly 3 million acre feet each year; one acre foot can supply about two households.

FILE/Lake-Oroville. AP Photo Noah Berger

His plan also calls to expand water storage, in above-ground reservoirs and underground aquifers, by about 4 million acre feet — nearly enough water to fill Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir. New storage infrastructure would help the state capture more water during times of heavy rain, like the two large storms California saw last October and December.

The proposal comes amid the third year of a drought, the state’s second in the past decade. Most of the state’s major reservoirs are far below normal levels after the state saw its driest January through March in at least a century. That’s typically when most of the state’s rain and snow falls.

Interest in water recycling is expanding across the West as states and cities see their water supplies threatened by extended droughts. About two dozen communities, including those in Nevada and Colorado, rely on some recycled water for drinking, but that number is expected to grow.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water for nearly half the state’s residents, is building a massive water recycling project. Congress included $1 billion for water reuse projects in the West in the infrastructure bill passed last year.

Newsom has resisted conservation mandates, instead calling on Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%, a target that the state is far from meeting. He’s asked the state’s more than 400 local water districts to implement their own plans to reduce water use and has set a few statewide policies, like a ban on watering decorative grass.

The new proposal doesn’t call for any immediate, mandatory cuts to water use in cities or on farms. Instead, he wants the State Water Resources Control Board to develop efficiency targets for every district, but they would only take effect next spring if there’s another dry winter. He’s also proposing spending $1 billion to get rid of 500,000 square feet of turf.

But Newsom said he wants the Legislature to consider a law that would let the state curtail people’s water rights even when its not a drought. The state operates an archaic system of water rights to govern how much water cities, farms and others are entitled to take and from where. An effort is underway to digitize records that spell out those terms, some more than a century old.

Desalination would make up only about 3% of the added water supply Newsom is calling for, most of it coming from brackish water, which isn’t as salty as water that comes from the ocean.

His plan doesn’t spell out how much water would come from removing salt from ocean water, a more controversial practice, but he’s calling on various state agencies to create a process for citing such projects by 2023.

“As California becomes hotter and drier, we must become more resourceful with the strategic opportunity that 840 miles of ocean coastline offer to build water resilience,” the plan said.

He’s not proposing any new money to boost water storage, instead working to speed up projects that have already been proposed. The state has already put $350 million aside for hundreds of projects aimed at making it easier to recharge groundwater storage.

He’s also committing to pushing forward with seven water storage projects funded by a 2014 bond that voters passed, including a delayed reservoir project.

Listen to the report by KMJ’s Liz Kern.

by KATHLEEN RONAYNE Associated Press


Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher (Yuba City) issued a statement regarding the Governor’s announcement of a new Water Supply Strategy.

“Another day, another empty promise from the Governor. It’s his administration that is holding up water storage projects we desperately need. If he wants to do something on the drought, he could stop the press conferences and go tell his staff to act.

“Ultimately, the Governor didn’t announce much at all today. With this current policy, we will continue to see fallow fields and abandoned farms well into the future.”

Central Valley lawmaker Vince Fong (R-Kern County), Vice Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, issued the following statement:

“The Governor continues to deflect and punt, while California farmers, families and workers suffer.

“California’s water system was designed for dry and wet years, and if it were properly funded and operated by the state, the system would be working now.

“The Governor can use his authority to sign the permits and fund above ground storage and conveyance systems.

“No more words. No more press conferences to make splashy headlines. The time is now to invest, fast track and complete needed and vital water infrastructure.”

Don Cameron, Chair of the State Board of Food and Agriculture – “As we adapt to a hotter and drier future – I applaud the Administration’s Water Supply Strategy . For the communities and farm families in the Central Valley, this strategy is a call for action to not only adapt to our changing climate but also support a more drought-resilient, equitable and vibrant agricultural economy. This wouldn’t be possible without the leadership and vision of the Governor.”

Chris Valadez, President of Grower-Shipper Association –“Grower and farmworker communities benefit from the commitment within California’s Water Supply Strategy to move smarter and faster to update our water systems. Prioritizing recycling and desalination are critical needs for coastal communities, supporting safe drinking water and opportunities for greater water supply diversity.”

Bryce Lundberg, Vice President of Agriculture at Lundberg Family Farms – “Expanding water storage capacity is a must-do for California. We cannot meet our future water demand needs without developing new water supplies and reducing overall demand. The Governor’s Water Supply Strategy is an important step forward in modernizing our water infrastructure.”

Dave Puglia, President and CEO of Western Growers – “To adapt to climate realities, the Governor’s plan recognizes the urgent need to build new and improve existing infrastructure and to streamline and improve the practicality of the regulatory processes that govern them. Critically, that means new and expanded surface and groundwater storage to capture wet year flood flows that are too infrequent to be missed.”

Ian LeMay, President of California Fresh Fruit Association – “We appreciate the efforts the Newsom Administration has taken to address the critical need for water investments to guarantee the continued sustainability of California agriculture.”

Aubrey Bettencourt, President/CEO of Almond Alliance of California — “There is no silver bullet to California’s water problems. It takes different solutions, and this plan recognizes that. The Almond Alliance stands behind Governor Gavin Newsom in his work on relieving supply pressures on underrepresented communities and providing water supply certainty. This landmark effort supports our rural communities and ensures a secure food supply for California and the nation.”

Ag Council of California – Appreciate Gavin Newsom for announcing a strategy to invest in NEW water supply sources and accelerate desperate needed water projects. Ag Council of CA looks forward to working with the governor on these urgent efforts.”

Community Alliance of Family Farmers – “Appreciate your commitment to addressing the drought, Gavin Newsom. We hope these plans keep our small food-growing family farmers at the table.”

David Guy, President of Northern California Water Association – “We applaud Governor Newsom’s announcement today to accelerate improving our water supply infrastructure throughout California to serve people, farms, recreation and fish and wildlife.”