Newsom Unveils Plan to Capture More Water Amid California’s Above-Average Snowpack

Newsom Unveils Plan to Capture More Water Amid California’s Above-Average Snowpack

Gov. Gavin Newsom with water officials at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada on April 2, 2024. (Governor's Office)

Sophie Li
Sophie Li


Updated: 4/11/2024


Standing atop a snowy summit south of Lake Tahoe alongside state water officials, Gov. Gavin Newsom on April 2 unveiled an updated water plan, detailing guidelines for capturing and storing stormwater and streamlining groundwater recharging in California.
The five-year update, mandated by the State Water Code, will enhance California’s resilience against various weather challenges.
“The water plans and strategies we’re implementing are each targeted components of our overall effort to deliver clean water to Californians by capturing, storing, and conserving more water throughout the state,” the governor said in a statement. “This plan is a critical component of that effort.”
The plan calls for upgrading pipelines to enhance integration with other systems, improving technology and strategies for information sharing, and adapting operations to address climate change.
The plan’s release came along with encouraging results from April’s end-of-season snow survey, with officials recording 64 inches of snow—113 percent of the average for the location and above average overall.
The abundant snowfall will replenish California’s reservoirs and rivers for the months ahead.
Currently, almost all of California’s major reservoirs are above historical averages, with many nearing full capacity. The state’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, are at 95 percent and 89 percent, respectively.
This year’s good news follows last April’s record-breaking snowpack, which was more than double the average; however, the previous three years all saw below average snowpacks.
“In the past few years alone, we’ve gone from extreme drought to some of the most intense rain and snow seasons on record—showcasing the need for us to constantly adapt to how we manage our water supplies,” the governor said in the statement.
He noted that nine years ago, then-Gov. Jerry Brown stood on snowless ground at the same location and declared a drought emergency.
“These extremes are becoming the new reality, and that new reality requires a new approach,” Mr. Newsom told reporters. “The water system in California was designed for a world that no longer exists.”
Mr. Newsom said the state will advance major infrastructure projects as part of the plan, including the Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, north of Sacramento—an initiative set to be California’s largest new reservoir in the past 50 years—and the proposed delta tunnels project, which aims to convey water beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Southern California.
Water is released on the main spillway at Lake Oroville in Oroville, Calif., on June 15, 2023. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Water is released on the main spillway at Lake Oroville in Oroville, Calif., on June 15, 2023. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“The Delta Conveyance is foundational. It’s critical if we’re going to address the issue of climate change. ... It is one of the most important projects this state can advance,” the governor said at the survey site during a press conference.
In addition to modernizing water infrastructure, he highlighted that the plan includes efforts to restore the state’s natural infrastructure, such as the Feather River watershed above Lake Oroville, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and the Colorado River Basin.
“One of the hallmarks of this plan is the integration in the connection between built infrastructure and natural infrastructure,” Mr. Newsom said. “The connection between rivers and watersheds, the connection between meadows and forests, and how they connect to the backbone of our system.”
An example of this approach includes a decision by the state water board to reduce the amount of water routed from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries to farms and communities for drinking in order to protect two species of fish.
However, some water experts said such plans, if implemented, would significantly impact not only the local farming community but other sectors reliant on water.
“[The plan] will have devastating long-term impacts on our region, depriving it of the water necessary to support locally grown food at affordable prices, high quality drinking water, and creating permanent economic impacts and additional burdens on our disadvantaged communities,” Modesto Irrigation District Public Affairs Manager Melissa Williams told The Epoch Times in an email earlier.
Natural resources expert and California Policy Center co-founder Edward Ring echoed this message.
“If the governor is serious about water resiliency, he has to recognize there has to be a balance between the alleged water requirements that environmentalists assign to the rivers with unimpaired flow, the needs of our farmers, and the need to let our aquifers recharge,” Mr. Ring told The Center Square, a news website that features reporting on state and local government.
Lake Shasta Dam in Shasta Lake, Calif, on Feb. 14, 2023. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

Lake Shasta Dam in Shasta Lake, Calif, on Feb. 14, 2023. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

“Because when farmers can’t get the water from the aqueduct to irrigate their crops, they’re forced to pump groundwater. If they could get their surface water this year, they could let the aquifers recharge even more than is required by the new groundwater pumping regulations.”
Mr. Newsom has backed an alternative approach called “voluntary agreements,” which would allow water agencies to commit to voluntarily reducing their water usage and funding projects to protect the environment.
During the press conference, he also emphasized the importance of planning for the state’s future, citing his administration’s Water Supply Strategy that plans for hotter and drier weather that could reduce the state’s water supply up to 10 percent by 2040.
Another initiative highlighted by the governor is the Water Resilience Portfolio, which includes over 140 actions designed to enhance water supplies, restore natural ecosystems, and develop infrastructure for storing and transporting more water.
Also, for the first time the plan includes a chapter calling for state policies to improve Native Americans’ “ability to access their sacred sites, protect their cultural resources, and support their water rights.”
The plan has received backing from the California Farm Bureau, which represents more than 26,000 family farms and ranches across the state.
“We’re encouraged that the plan highlights infrastructure projects to capture, store and convey water supplies,” said President Shannon Douglass. “We’re also pleased that it seeks to reduce permitting burdens for projects that support water resilience, including through groundwater recharge and habitat restoration.”
Sophie Li
Sophie Li

Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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