June 12, 2013
by David Guy
There has recently been an increased interest in healthy headwaters in California. We encourage policy makers to join in this conversation.
There are many good examples in other states, ranging from New York to Colorado, where there have been important investments and innovation in strategies for healthy headwaters. Several recent reports have started to provide a strong platform for a state policy for healthy headwaters in California. This includes:
Carpe Diem West’s Healthy Headwaters Program is a fresh approach where upstream land managers (including federal and state entities), downstream water utilities, scientists, economists, and conservation advocates have come together around an objective to increase the climate resiliency of the headwaters systems that provide water for the West. “With the increased threat of climate change, it is a priority to elevate headwaters restoration and protection to ensure water quality and sustainability over the long-term.” Carpe Diem West’s policy platform starts from the recognition that “headwaters provide water security and other benefits—including flood control, groundwater recharge, recreation, and source water for fish and wildlife—that are important to all segments of western communities. For this reason headwaters restoration and protection programs are best designed through collaborative processes that engage a full range of stakeholders including utilities, conservationists, the business community, elected officials, agency personnel, scientists, and citizens. Diverse public-private collaborative are a proven way to develop headwaters programs that are responsive to community priorities and that attract broad-based public support and diverse funding streams.” More details are at: Carpe Diem West – Healthy Headwaters Program.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has advanced two recent reports that highlight the source waters for California and the need for new strategies to protect the water in our headwaters. In Where does California’s water come from: Land conservation and the watersheds that supply California’s drinking water, TNC paints a picture of “the watersheds that supply drinking water to 80% of Californian’s residents cover almost 157 million acres and span 8 states” and they suggest land conservation strategies to improve these water supplies.
A recent article in “Water Policy,” Tapped out: how can cities secure their water future, the authors advocate for urban-rural partnerships and contend that cities must begin playing a much larger and broader role in resolving water scarcity issues for two primary reasons: 1) cities are experiencing regular shortages and 2) cities are directly dependent upon agriculture for their sustenance.
The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) this spring approved a set of policy principles designed to improve the management of California’s headwaters. “California can no longer afford to relegate management of it headwaters to the margin.” “The headwaters – including those in the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, coastal ranges, mountain foothills and numerous ranges in the San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests –are critical to the state but could contribute even more if they were better managed. Ultimately, managing California’s headwaters is integral to optimizing the water supplies that nature provides. Increasing water yield and quality; reducing the risk and impacts of catastrophic wildfire; and enhancing natural features and functions; are all benefits to be derived, locally and statewide, from improved headwaters stewardship….Enhancing the resiliency and adaptability of headwaters is overdue.” The principles can be seen at: ACWA Approves Policy Principles on Managing California’s Headwaters.
The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) has developed its Rural-Urban Connections Strategy (RUCS), which has a headwaters component. Here, the forested landscape consists of a complex and varied pattern of ecological conditions, land ownership and management history. There are considerable challenges facing the region, some of which are of global significance. Moving forward into the future, there will be a need for public and private local, regional, state and federal partners to collaborate on finding ways to address the challenges and opportunities to enhance economic development and protect the environmental quality that is the natural heritage of the region.” More details are at: Forest Management: Current Conditions in the Forested Lands of the SACOG Region.
In thinking about the values of headwaters in the context of California water policy, the California legislature in 2009, as part of the Delta reform package, spoke to the importance of water resources in the headwaters. These provisions together recognize the importance of managing water in the headwaters for various beneficial purposes, including cities and rural communities, farms, refuges and managed wetlands, recreation and the meandering rivers that support fisheries and aquatic habitat.
- Regional sustainability: The state policy on regional sustainability in Water Code §85021 calls for “each region that depends on water from the Delta watershed shall improve its regional self-reliance for water through investment in water use efficiency, water recycling, advanced water technologies, local and regional water supply projects, and improved regional coordination of local and regional water supply efforts.”
- Water rights protections: The Legislature expressly recognized that water rights and area of origin provisions in the headwaters shall not be impaired or diminished as a result of any program or project in the Bay-Delta. (Water Code §85031.) Water right priorities and area-of-origin assurances must be recognized and protected to ensure reliable supplies for all water uses and needs in the headwaters. Importantly, these rights provide headwater communities with the ability to manage local water sources to meet present and any future needs in the region.
- Coequal goals: The state’s co-equal goals include “providing a more reliable water supply for California.” (Water Code §85054.) This includes the headwaters and recognizes the importance of more reliable water supplies for all beneficial uses mentioned above.
Strategic investments in California’s headwaters—both financial and through a commitment to the policies described above–will be critical to manage water for these various beneficial purposes and will benefit the rest of the state that depends upon these water resources.