Tag Archives: water resource management

Moving forward on Flood-MAR with pilots

The progress on implementing floodwater managed aquifer recharge programs (Flood-MAR) reminds me of the economist’s joke, “sure it works in practice, but does it work in theory?” A lot of focus seems to be on trying to refine the technical understanding of recharge, without going with what we already know about aquifer replenishment from decades of applications.

The Department of Water Resources Flood-MAR program recently held a public forum to discuss its research program. I presented a poster (shown above) on the findings of a series of studies we conducted for Sustainable Conservation on the economic and financial considerations for establishing these programs. (I posted about this last February.)

My conclusion from the presentations and the other publications we’ve followed is that the next step is to set up pilots using different institutional set ups and economic incentives. The scientists and engineers can further refine their findings, but we generally know where the soils are better for percolation versus others, and we know that crop productivity won’t fall too much where fields are flooded. The real issues fall into five categories, of which we’ve delved into four in our Floodwater Recharge Memos.

Benefits Diagrams_Page_5

The first is identifying the beneficiaries and the potential magnitude of those benefits. As can be seen in the flow chart above, there many more potential beneficiaries than just the local groundwater users. Some of these benefits require forecast informed reservoir operations (FIRO) to realize those gains through reduced flood control space, increased water supply storage and greater summertime hydropower output. Flood-MAR programs can provide the needed margin of error to lower the risk from FIRO.

FloodMAR Poster - Financing

The second is finding the funding mechanisms to compensate growers or to build dedicated recharge basins. We prepared a list of potential financing mechanisms linked to the potential beneficiaries. (This list grew out of another study that we prepared for the Delta Protection Commission on feasible options for beneficiary-pays financing.)

FloodMAR Poster Incentives

The third is determining what type of market incentive transactions mechanisms would work best at attracting the most preferred operations and acreage. I have explored the issues of establishing unusual new markets for a couple of decades, including for water rights transfer and air quality permit trading. It is not a simple case of “declaring markets exist” and then walking away. Managing institutions have important roles in setting up, running and funding any market, and most particularly for those that manage what were “public goods” that individuals and firms were able to use for free. The table above lists the most important considerations in establishing those markets.

The fourth assessing what type of infrastructure investment will produce the most cost-effective recharge. Construction costs (which we evaluated) is one aspect, and impacts on agricultural operations and financial feasibility are other considerations. The chart at the top summarizes the results from comparing several case studies. These will vary by situation, but remarkably, these options appear to cost substantially less than any surface storage projects currently being proposed.

The final institutional issue to be addressed, but not the least important, is determining the extent of rights over floodwaters and aquifers. California state law and regulations are just beginning to grapple with these issues. Certain areas are beginning to assert protection of their existing rights. This issue probably represents the single biggest impediment to these programs before attracting growers to participate.

All of these issues can be addressed in a range of pilot programs which use different variables to test which are likely to be more successful. Scientists and engineers can use these pilots to test for the impacts of different types of water diversion and application. Statistical regression analysis can provide us much of what we know without having to understand the hydrological dynamics. Legal rights can be assessed by providing temporary permits that might be modified as we learn more from the pilots.

Is it time to move forward with local pilot programs? Do we know enough that we can demonstrate the likely benefits? What other aspects should we explore before moving to widespread adoption and implementation?

Using floods to replenish groundwater


M.Cubed produced four reports for Sustainable Conservation on using floodwaters to recharge aquifers in California’s Central Valley. The first is on expected costs. The next three are a set on the benefits, participation incentives and financing options for using floodwaters in wetter years to replenish groundwater aquifers. We found that costs would range around $100 per acre-foot, and beneficiaries include not only local farmers, but also downstream communities with lower flood control costs, upstream water users with more space for storage instead of flood control, increased hydropower generation, and more streamside habitat. We discussed several different approaches to incentives based on our experience in a range of market-based regulatory settings and the water transfer market.

With the PPIC’s release of Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley, which forecasts a loss of 500,000 acres of agricultural production due to reduced groundwater pumping under the State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), local solutions that mitigate groundwater restrictions should be moving to the fore.

Don Cameron at Terranova Ranch started doing this deliberately earlier this decade, and working with Phil Bachand and UC Davis, more study has shown the effectiveness, and the lack of risk to crops, from this strategy. The Department of Water Resources has implemented the Flood-MAR program to explore this alternative further. The Flood-MAR whitepaper explores many of these issues, but its list of beneficiaries is incomplete, and the program appears to not yet moved on to how to effectively implement these programs integrated with the local SGMA plans. Our white papers could be useful starting points for that discussion.

(Image Source: Chico Enterprise-Record)




Building Drought Resilience in California’s Cities and Suburbs from PPIC

Then And Now: California's Drought Officially Declared To Be Over

M.Cubed partner David Mitchell is the lead author on this PPIC report that reviews the responses by urban agencies to the California’s recent drought and looks at the lessons learned. He’s speaking during a webinar on June 16 at noon. In addition, he co-authored an opinion article for the Sacramento Bee.

Current winter setting a new California-wide record precipitation accumulation | Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E)

Source: Current winter setting a new California-wide record precipitation accumulation | Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E)

Thoughts on “California’s Water System Built for a Climate We No Longer Have” | KQED Science

We just looked at the frequency of different water conditions over the last 15, 35 and 110 years. Over the longer period, wet, “normal” or average, and dry years have occurred in about equal shares, at about one-third each. But over the last 35 years dry conditions have occurred in about half of the years. Over the last 15 years, wet conditions have declined to less than 20% of the years.

We’re also working with Sustainable Conservation on a program that will incentivize growers to use diverted floodwaters to recharge groundwater aquifers below their fields.

California is likely to see more extreme floods and drought with climate change, but the state’s water infrastructure may not be ready.

Source: California’s Water System Built for a Climate We No Longer Have | KQED Science

An economically attractive environmental solution in peril

The agreement to take down PacifiCorp’s dams on the Klamath River is in peril. In 2006 we showed in a study funded by the California Energy Commission that decommissioning the dams would likely cost PacifiCorps ratepayers about the same as relicensing. That mitigated the economic argument and opened up the negotiations among the power company, farmers, tribes, environmentalists and government agencies to came to an agreement in 2010 to start decommissioning by 2020.

The agreement required Congress to act by the end of 2015 and that deadline is looming. Unfortunately, there are still opponents who mistakenly believe that the project’s hydropower is cheaper than the alternatives. In fact, the economics are even more favorable today whether PacifiCorp uses natural gas or renewables to replace the lost power. And this analysis ignores the benefits to the Klamath fisheries from decommissioning. It’s too bad that bad simplistic economics can still get traction in the legislative process.

Paying for Water in California

My partner David Mitchell has coauthored an article in the Hastings Law Review:

Paying for Water in California: The Legal Framework

Brian Gray, Dean Misczynski, Ellen Hanak, Andrew Fahlund, Jay Lund, David Mitchell, and James Nachbaur
Over the past four decades, California voters passed a series of initiatives that
amended the California Constitution to limit the power of the state legislature and
local governments to enact taxes and restrict their authority to adopt fees and other
charges to fund government programs. Three of these initiatives—Proposition 13
(enacted in 1978), Proposition 218 (passed in 1996), and Proposition 26 (approved in
2010)—have placed significant constraints on the funding of water resources projects.
Although each of these laws has enhanced the transparency and accountability of the
decision-making process, the funding constraints now jeopardize an array of vital
water supply, management, and regulatory functions. These include funding for the
development of new water supplies, integrated water management, protection of
groundwater resources, development of alternative water sources (including recycled
and conserved water programs), control of stormwater discharges, and regulation of
water extraction and water use to protect water rights, water quality, aquatic species,
and other beneficial uses of the state’s water systems.
This Article is a companion to the report Paying for Water in California and focuses
on the legal aspects of water financing. The Paying for Water study demonstrated the critical importance of local funding to support California’s water system: local
utilities and governments raise eighty-five percent of the more than thirty billion
dollars spent annually on water supply, quality, flood, and ecosystem management
through local fees and taxes. The study identified a two to three billion dollar annual
funding gap, with critical gaps already evident for provision of safe drinking water in
small, rural communities, prevention of stormwater pollution, protection of people,
property, and infrastructure from flooding, recovery efforts for aquatic ecosystems,
and integrated water management. In most cases, these gaps reflect legal obstacles to
raising more funds locally. In addition, urban water and wastewater systems—now in
relatively good fiscal health—face looming challenges related to rising costs and legal
constraints on the ability to raise fees to support modern, integrated water
This Article begins with an overview of the traditional sources of funding for water
development, management, and regulation, and proceeds to a detailed analysis of the
effects of the constitutional constraints (especially of Propositions 218 and 26) on
these essential governmental programs. Topics include: (i) analysis of the effects of
Proposition 218 on water rates and fees charged by public retail water agencies for
water service and integrated, portfolio-based water management; (ii) consideration of
the special problems of Proposition 218 for groundwater regulation and stormwater
discharge programs; (iii) predictions about the effects of Proposition 26 on wholesale
water rates, water stewardship charges, and regulatory fees; and (iv) suggestions for
harmonizing the fiscal strictures of Propositions 218 and 26 with the reasonable use
mandates of Article X, Section 2, of the California Constitution, which form the
foundation of the state’s water law and policy.
Our key conclusions are that: (1) Propositions 218 and 26 have created significant
impediments to economically rational and sustainable funding of California’s most
important water service, management, and regulatory programs; (2) judicial
interpretations of the constitutional restrictions generally have compounded these
impediments; and (3) reform of the law is needed. The Article concludes with
recommendations that water agencies, the legislature, the courts, and the voters
should consider as a means of correcting (or at least ameliorating) those aspects of
the law that are inconsistent with sound and creative water resources administration