Testimony in Support of Streamlining California’s Water-Recharge Regulations
In SUPPORT of SB 651 relating to water policy
March 28, 2023
Dear Senator Grove,
My name is Steven Greenhut. I am a senior fellow and Western region director at the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank that supports limited effective government in many areas, including climate, environmental conservation and water markets. We support measures that promote adequate water supplies to benefit farms, businesses and urban water users.
I am writing to support your legislation, Senate Bill 651. The measure codifies two sections of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-7-22, which he issued during the recent drought. For instance, Section 12 calls on state and regional water boards to “accelerate approvals for projects that enhance the ability of a local or state agency to capture high precipitation events for local storage or recharge.”
SB 651’s clear goal is to put the governor’s directive into action. Thanks to an unusually rainy three months, California is largely free from drought conditions. But given California’s history and the prospect of climate change, now is the time to plan for future droughts. Groundwater recharge, which refers to the replenishment of aquifers, bolsters water supplies and protects the environment.
“Groundwater recharge can act as a barrier to seawater intrusion in coastal basins and to the migration of contaminants. Other potential benefits include improving flows in rivers and streams, flood control, and wildlife and bird habitat,” according to a Stanford University report. This is particularly important given the subsidence problems in the Central Valley caused by over-pumping of groundwater sources as the drought limited state and federal water deliveries.
Expanding groundwater storage (especially through off-stream revenues that do not dam rivers) remains an important part of California’s water strategy, but bolstering groundwater recharge offers a less-costly and relatively non-controversial alternative.
One of the key impediments to groundwater-recharge projects is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It is disappointing that legislation designed to improve environmental quality delays and discourages projects that will boost environmental outcomes. The governor recently called for expediting CEQA reviews for drought-resilience projects.
In keeping with that goal, this legislation would give the secretary of natural resources the authority to exempt projects that “capture high precipitation events for local storage or recharge, consistent with water rights priorities and protections for fish and wildlife.” This will speed up the process for approving projects that speed up the recharge process—to the benefit of farms, urban users and the environment.
For all of these reasons, I support SB 651.
Western Region Director
R Street Institute