Water and Growth: A Roundtable Discussion
When water and growth was featured in the May/June 1995 Western Water, the debate in the California Legislature was about whether a local water district should have any say when it came to providing water to new developments. Of the four bills before state lawmakers, it was Sen. Jim Costa’s SB 901 that cleared the Legislature and was signed into law. The bill established a voluntary link between water and land-use planning by requiring planning departments to consult with local water purveyors about the availability of new supplies.
Flash forward to 2000. With the state’s population projected to reach some 40 million in the next decade or so and “smart growth” the buzzword of the day, the debate over linking water and growth has reemerged in the state Legislature. As in 1995, one of the leading voices in the current debate is the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). The Bay Area water supplier originally became engaged in this topic after a dispute with developers of Dougherty Valley over the source of water for the new development.
On March 29, Chief Writer Sue McClurg met with representatives of five organizations involved in the ongoing debate for a roundtable discussion. (That 90-minute, tape-recorded discussion was edited for this publication.)
Randele Kanouse is special assistant to the general manager of EBMUD. Since 1989, he has directed the utility’s federal and state legislative programs. He represents the utility in the ongoing efforts to strengthen statutory linkages between land use planning and water supply planning.
Cliff Moriyama is legislative advocate for the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) on environmental and water issues, a position he has held since 1996. Prior to 1996, he was director of agricultural resources for the California Chamber of Commerce where he staffed its Water Resources Committee.
Mary Ann Warmerdam is legislative advocate for the California Farm Bureau Federation, representing its members in the Legislature on natural resource issues, with a special emphasis on water issues. A graduate of the Agricultural Leadership Program, she has worked for the Farm Bureau in a variety of capacities since 1982.
Since 1983 Gerald Meral has served as executive director of the Planning and Conservation League (PCL), a statewide coalition of conservation groups and individuals who lobby for improved environmental regulations. He served as deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources during the Jerry Brown administration.
A former mayor of Modesto, Carol Whiteside is president of the Great Valley Center. She established the center in 1997 to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. She also served in the Wilson administration as assistant secretary at the California Resources Agency and as director of intergovernmental affairs.
McCLURG: Growth in California has been closely tied with water development. In your opinion, is there an adequate link between water and growth?
KANOUSE: For East Bay MUD it’s not so much about water and growth as about having water to serve our customers. We are a retail water agency. My board members are directly elected by their customers and are concerned about meeting their needs. We’ve discovered that developing water supplies has become more difficult, more complex and takes more time than it did during the first 70 years of the 20th century. So it’s become more important for us that we match our available water supplies to our customers’ demand. For us, there are communication linkages that should be established between cities, counties and LAFCOs [Local Agency Formation Commissions] and the water purveyors who have the obligation to serve the water.
WHITESIDE: In the San Joaquin Valley which will be, by everyone’s projection, the site of an enormous amount of growth in the next few decades, there is general concern about water supply and quality to meet the needs of both agriculture and the growing population. And the valley is currently in an overdraft situation. There’s growing concern, especially among the growers and the water districts, about where water to serve the next 5 or 6 million people is going to come from if there aren’t substantial changes in either the water policy or water supply. The cities are not entirely engaged in this yet because they’ve always had the belief that if they need water that somehow it will be available. I don’t think that it’s entirely on the radar screen of local government, but it’s rising quickly.
WARMERDAM: From our point of view, we’re looking at a situation where farmers in many areas of the state cannot count on the supply that we’ve built to date. The question is if we don’t have the reliability in the current system, particularly on the west side of the San Joaquin where their supply is 50 percent, how are we positioned for additional demands on the system? And whether it’s groundwater or surface water in the San Joaquin Valley, we know those demands are there; and we don’t seem to have had a very comprehensive dialogue about how we’re going to meet those demands. We are concerned, frankly, that without that comprehensive dialogue, then the course of least resistance will be to reallocate water from the existing uses to a greater demand and that’s very threatening to farmers. And it’s not just development: How are we going to meet our obligations to the environment? That all plays into this.
MORIYAMA: A fundamental issue facing the state is that the population is going to continue to grow. Our association [CBIA] has taken a great interest in the availability of supply to accommodate demands not only of existing customers - in the case of East Bay MUD – but also new demand created by a growing population. We would rather see development of new supplies so everyone can get better, including the environment, than reallocation because reallocation is to the detriment of one sector of the economy, agriculture.
That’s why we were strong supporters of Proposition 13 [the water bond]. It has great benefits to the environment, but it also increases new supplies, especially south of the Delta. We’re looking at the larger picture. At the same time, we’re hoping local governments get the best information possible as they make their decisions.
MERAL: I think the answer that everyone gave to Sue’s question was no. [Laughter] Everyone answered the question and they all said, “Not only are there not adequate linkages, there are no linkages at all.” There’s no where in the state where you could say – except for a few tiny exceptions – water really does effect growth here.
McCLURG: Some view the effort to coordinate land use and water supply as an effort to slow or stop growth. Others say if you increase the linkage, you’re going to increase political pressure to develop new supplies. What are your thoughts?
MORIYAMA: I think the notion that if you restrict or do not pursue new supplies you’re somehow going to lessen the demand for water is a fallacy. The demand is going to increase because population is increasing. If you want to focus on transfers or other water management alternatives that’s fine; that’s one policy path you can travel down. It’s our association’s view at the same time you do that, you have to look at increasing supplies because from what I’ve heard from DWR [Department of Water Resources] and others, you can only go so far with conservation and other water management options without jeopardizing other industries.
KANOUSE: From our perspective establishing stronger linkages between water supply availability and land use planning will definitely help increase supplies in California. It’s an issue that is coming onto the radar screen of local government in a way that it has not historically been there. This is the ninth year in which we’ve [EBMUD] been sponsoring legislation on this issue in Sacramento. I’ve lost all my hair pushing these bills. [Laughter] In these nine years, on the one hand one can say, “Well, you know, success has been somewhat limited,” but I assert quite to the contrary.
For example, the commitment of BIA [Building Industry Association] to dealing with the water supply problems has been very significant. They understand the complexities and the need to deal with environmental values in a way they didn’t nine years ago. Nine years ago they assumed that it was simply a simple matter of local entities passing bond measures and the water would be there. I see the same thing happening with local government officials, and that is a trend that will continue. When all of the interest groups that have a stake in California’s future get involved in water supply development, our experience tells us that that will result in more water.
WHITESIDE: I think the question you posed is a short-term/long-term question. The question is, “Where does the pain come?” If you have some restrictions on new development and growth initially to force the issue about adequate supply and long-term water planning, you have taken some short-term difficulty in order to have a better long-term result. The alternative is to continue without paying in the short term and force a far greater crisis and far greater economic disruption in the long term. It’s really the question of sustainability that we seem to dance around but haven’t yet been able to resolve. How do you sustain the state’s environment, it’s economy, and it’s population over the long term in a way that is healthy and desirable? As opposed to driving off a cliff for one sector or another without regard to long-term implications.
MORIYAMA: If you’re asking for a higher level of commitment being placed upon local government – and I won’t speak for local government – in our opinion, it’s the responsibility of the state to then provide those local governments with adequate tools to assist them in development of their own local supplies. You can’t have one without the other because then it’s just a statewide growth management plan, which we don’t think solves the solution either in the short term or the long term. …
In regards to the short-term/long-term item, what may be more disturbing is that in the short term you might see the path of least resistance being taken rather than trying to keep your eye on the long-term goal, which would be new supplies. And obviously we’re seeing in this day and age that the path of least resistance would be a transfer which promotes reallocation.
WARMERDAM: We come from a long history of taking the initiative and developing irrigation districts, indebting ourselves to provide water supply. The point is not so much this would be an edict coming down from the state, but our farmers and ranchers view this more as in the best interest of the local governments to be given the ability to set their own course. That includes the panoply of infrastructure that’s needed for a healthy community. …
We believe that you need to, as a baseline issue, identify how you’re going to meet your long-term water needs. If that involves short-term pain, we think that’s a wiser course of action than just approving [development] willy-nilly without having some sustainability to it because that’s in no one’s best interest. It’s not in the homeowner’s best interest. We would argue it’s not in the community’s best interest. It’s certainly not in the economy’s or the environment’s best interest.
MORIYAMA: What it comes down to is just good planning and making sure the local officials that have to make the tough decisions have the best information in front of them as they make those choices and decisions.
WHITESIDE: There’s also a concomitant responsibility, however, in terms of local governments. We know, for instance, that in the valley, lots of local governments still don’t require water meters. And so the personal water use and the consumption of water is not as sensitive and as responsible as it should be. And there is no market incentive obviously to limit use. On the other hand, if everyone reduced their water use in the valley by 75 percent, it wouldn’t address the need and the capacity issues that we’re talking about over the long term.
WARMERDAM: We need to empower local governments so they can demand the state address questions about water transfers. No one would disagree that if we continue to have a log jam in the Delta, water transfers for all practical purposes are really not going to be a very effective water management tool. We could do it on the margins. We’ve been doing it on the margin for several years. But wholesale water transfers? It would be challenging.
MERAL: I think this discussion could be had over transportation, air quality, or most other infrastructure. The state doesn’t mandate local government consider any of those things. East Bay MUD will try, but the state does not say to any local government, “You must demonstrate that your development won’t make things worse for traffic or air quality or solid waste or water supply or sewage or anything.” It’s not a state role, apparently. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a state role. It just is not a role for the state to tell local government how to approve or not approve development.
So one does have to ask the question of Mary Ann, “Well, if that’s the case, if the state isn’t going to tell them on what parameters by which they should approve development, why is it the state’s responsibility to solve these big problems?” I’m not saying it isn’t their responsibility, but after all they have no role in approving the development. Why should it be their role to mitigate the effects of it?
WARMERDAM: The state comes by it not deliberately but incidentally, if you will, in that the state took on the burden a number of years ago of providing water supply reliability to southern California initially, then up and down the Valley. I think the state has maybe unconsciously taken on a responsibility it never envisioned for itself. Does that give the state some ability to make some demands of local communities? It opens the door for that. Is that a good public policy? I’m not sure. [It depends] how it’s crafted.
WHITESIDE: One of the things that’s changed over what’s happened historically is that we have better tools. We have better predictors. We have better management abilities. We understand water supply and distribution. We know more about the groundwater table. We know more about transfers. We know more about everything. And it seems to me that that changes the historic obligation of how you use that information to impact and make better decisions.
In the 1950s, people didn’t see California of 35 or 50 million. We now see California of 50 million or more and understand the implications of that. We also tell everyone that local government is in charge, but they’re making decisions in light of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. So there’s a lot of state and federal oversight already in the process, and this is just one more piece of a framework that does come from the state and federal governments dealing with these issues.
MERAL: Those are regulatory issues that deal with the effects of growth. The Endangered Species Act kicks in when someone wants to approve a subdivision. … The state’s air pollution and water pollution laws react to growth by saying, “Oh, we’ve got a problem the air is dirty, we don’t have enough water, or whatever.” But they don’t say, “Why didn’t we tell them that in the first place when that document when through the clearing house?” The bottom line is that the state doesn’t deal with that question. And whether it adopted it by default, it’s going the other way. The state has decided, with transportation, to give the money back to the locals and let them decide. Maybe that’s where we’re headed on water.
KANOUSE: We think those kinds of decisions should and will remain local decisions. But we clearly believe that there needs to be better state guidance; there need to be statutes that require that locals look more carefully – certainly as it relates to impacts on existing users – at surface and groundwater supplies, looking at availability not simply in wet years but in dry years. At the same time, we must provide some deference to local decision making responsibilities. For example, with regard to the 1995 Costa legislation [SB 901] and the bills before and since, the bills we’ve sponsored have always said you have to look at multi-year droughts. And the question that immediately arises: Is that a three-year drought. Is that a two-year drought? Is that a five-year drought? What’s the right time period?
Our response has been to say, “We use a three-year drought planing scenario, but we don’t want to impose that planning scenario on others.” … Each local agency needs to determine what’s the appropriate drought planning scenario for its community. But the fact that today’s body of law has absolutely zero obligation to consider drought year water supply conditions or to do a serious assessment about the impact on groundwater when a proposed new town identifies groundwater as it’s source of water is wrong.
It is simply wrong.
MORIYAMA: Obviously, from Randy’s perspective, the focus has to be on his existing customers. People that would like to move into his service area don’t have a voice within that community. Those are the people that we think are aspiring to become a new homeowner. One thing you’re seeing is, as technology increases, new development is being much more water wise. Yet the existing community may not be so. While we’re producing new homes that are very water conservation minded, we would like to ask, “Are there ways to assist the retailers and the local governments to make the existing community more water wise?” …
As far as Randy’s discussion on SB 901, one of the things we’ve determined is that there may be a breakdown in communication between local governments and water districts. That’s why CBIA has sponsored legislation to make sure the dialogue is taking place. In 901, there’s a requirement for local governments to adopt an urban water management plan as a source document in their general plan, if it’s provided by the water agency. If it’s not provided by the water agency when they go through their general plan update, they may not have that document in front of them to incorporate and use in their future discussions. Legislation we’re pursuing is to place a local mandate on water agencies to make sure that their plans are provided to all the local governments in their service area.
NOTE: Other issues addressed during the discussion included communication between water districts and municipalities; the role of the state; past and current water and growth legislation; and water supply augmentation. A complete copy of the 16-page magazine is available from the Foundation for $3.
The most precious fluid on earth is not oil, but water,” the New York Times wrote in a recent editorial. We at the Foundation could not agree more.
The editorial was published in March, two days before World Water Day as 4,000 delegates from 150 countries were in the Netherlands discussing how to improve water provision. Participants at this World Water Forum issued a pledge to safeguard water supplies in the 21st Century. As with any discussion about water, there was much debate over funding, ecosystem protection and other political issues. Politics aside, three facts in news articles about World Water Day caught my attention:
- An estimated 1 billion people worldwide have no access to clean water;
- Nearly 3 billion lack proper sanitation;
- If trends continue, half the people on Earth will not have access to clean water by 2025.
Looking at the big picture, these facts brought to mind that old saying, “think globally, act locally.” One organization that follows that maxim is Water For People. This nonprofit group works to help people in other countries by drilling a new well, building a latrine and improving hygiene. Since 1998, I have served on the board of Water For People, and believe their approach to these pressing problems is a sound one.
In our world, Chief Writer Sue McClurg is finishing our book, Water & the Shaping of California. We recently received word that Barnes and Noble purchased 300 copies of the paperback version to sell in its California stores. Our co-publisher, Heyday Books, reports that advance sales to other book and museum stores is going well.
The book’s release will be celebrated at our Annual Water Law & Policy Briefing July 13-14 in San Diego. The reception for the book will be held on the first day of this day-and-a-half event. We are just now developing the full agenda, which will address a number of “hot” topics: TMDLs; conjunctive use; the proposed San Luis Rey River/groundwater ruling; CALFED’s future; and implementation of California’s 4.4 Plan. Mark your calendars, and call the Foundation for details on hotel and seminar reservations!
San Diego seemed like the ideal place to hold a reception for Water & the Shaping of California since the San Diego-based Hans and Margaret Doe Charitable Trust provided a major portion of the book’s development funds. A second reception will be held sometime this fall in Sacramento, and Sue and I will be making a number of presentations about the book – and our role in educating the public about water – at other events throughout the state.
You’ll notice that this issue of Western Water features a roundtable discussion, similar to the very effective one we convened last year on the role of science in public policy. Development Director Christine Schmidt took the photos as Sue guided five talkative folks through a conversation about the complexities in determining what link – if any – needs to be established between water supply and growth.