Various watershed stakeholders, water districts and four Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) groups sent more than 50 representatives to the Department of Water Resources’ South Lahontan Regional Forum on Wednesday, May 23. Held both in Bishop and Palmdale, the interlinked conference was a brainstorming session for water managers and planners to draft the region’s chapter of a larger water narrative that will be part of California’s 2013 Water Plan, which is updated every five years.
During the four-hour session, attendees discussed priorities, case studies, local IRWM efforts, conditions, challenges and planning with diversity, given the region’s wide variety of locations, all with an emphasis on how to increase influence on state water policy.
According to DWR’s Water Plan Project Manager Lewis Moeller, the downside of any single regional report is that it’s not necessarily a document that local governments and agencies consult when making specific policy decisions. It does, however, influence grant writing and cross-pollination of disciplines, especially helpful considering many agencies and districts frequently find themselves bridging multiple IRWMs and other boundaries. As a research tool, though, it can link users to case studies, pilot projects, etc., illustrating successes and failures that can aid water planners.
One significant topic: water rights. Moeller pointed out that federal authorities are likely to have different objectives that lead to conflicts with state and local agencies. “It’s how you deal with them,” he noted. “There are things federal agencies [i.e. the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, et al] are allowed and not allowed to do.” He cited, as an example, fears of too many ski areas wanting to build in a certain area. “You won’t see a plethora of industries coming in that aren’t part of allowed use.”
Concerns were expressed about protecting so-called “enviro-water,” or water that’s set aside to remain in the environment and not allowed to be diverted, and water that’s exported to the LADWP, Crystal Geyser water and other outlets, and those impacts on everything from fish hatcheries, to Mono Lake and Owens Lake, which are both undergoing restoration and rehydration. “Water is directly tied to the economic livelihood of the region, especially fishing and skiing,” observed CalTrout’s Mark Drew, who was also there as Executive Director of Inyo-Mono’s IWRM organization, which in terms of geography is the second largest IRWM in the state’s network.
As one attendee opined, “LADWP likes to say they only take half the water, which is a little like saying they’re only taking half your blood from your body.” Speaking of LADWP, the behemoth water agency was asked to participate, but reportedly declined in favor of forwarding notes, observations and comments. “We’re going to have to reconcile their views with others,” Moeller said.
Not just broad topics were covered. Flood management, invasive species (an issue that impacts many regions) and alternative energy production that relies on water as a source, such as the expansion of ORMAT’s Casa Diablo power plant near Mammoth Lakes were also discussed.
Climate change, as it affects the state water planning, made its formal debut in the 2009 update, and has since generated a handbook for use by water agencies. In a recent IRWM survey, the topic emerged as the top statewide priority. Temperature, snowpack and precipitation, as well as salinity in the state’s Delta are all expected to change, impacting the state’s water supply, which is already strained to meet current needs.
The Climate Change Handbook publication isn’t a requirement for water management — yet, but could be viewed as a pre-emptive, “easy in” anticipating future state green water management mandates.
A draft of the South Lahontan Region’s report is expected later this summer.