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Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River at Hoover Dam. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Peter Gleick’s National Water Plan for California

Rehash of his 2012 ‘Water for the 21st Century Plan’ that went nowhere even under Obama and Jerry Brown

By Wayne Lusvardi, October 12, 2020 6:55 am

California’s water policy is overwhelmingly a local matter.  But if you read the mainstream media you might think that it was mostly a state or federal issue. For example, consider that two thirds of all spending on water projects in California in a typical year are funded by local water agencies.  Nonetheless, water expert Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute is calling for a nationalized water policy for Democrat Party candidate Joe Biden if elected the next president.  There are four planks in Gleick’s political platform for nationalized water funding:

Plank 1 – Expand federal funding for people without water systems

Gleick wants a new president to fund water supply systems for “tens of millions of low-income people that lack safe, affordable drinking water and sanitation.”  There is no source cited for where the tens of millions number came from. According to Bloomberg.com, 460,000 households in the U.S. suffer from “plumbing poverty” but that includes cabins and recreational homes.

Gleick doesn’t tell us what he is referring to might better be called water systems for “illegal land subdivisions” of migrant trailer settlements in California, and elsewhere, that lack paved roads, street lights, water lines and sewers and/or local water wells are contaminated.  Many of these are mostly migrant worker settlements in California are in the Central Valley, such as Seville, East Orosi, Earlimart and East Porterville.

In Southern California, migrant settlements without water systems can be found near Thermal, Coachella and Imperial.  For example, in 2013 it was reported that there were 31 trailer parks comprising 483 mobile home units in Eastern Coachella Valley that lacked paved roads in “areas that lack water, sewer systems and basic infrastructure.” Funding for new road paving in the under-developed Coachella area comes from environmental mitigation fees exacted from renewable energy projects.

To develop land into buildable lots in California, the Subdivision Map Act must be complied with.  A legal subdivision as: “division of improved and unimproved land for the purpose of sale or lease or financing whether immediate or future” for five or more buildable lots. Water-less trailer settlements typically consist of mobile homes on wheels and trailers that are personal property not for sale or lease that depend on either a local water well or bottled water. Ironically, Gleick is concerned that retail bottled water uses too much energy.  Since migrant trailer settlements are unmapped and unsubdivided, they are also untaxed.

Gleick’s solution to those without drinkable “water access” is to provide grants to non-profit agencies or county governments to fund water lines, and if need be water treatment systems.  This is a non-solution because people living in poverty do not have the money to maintain water systems or install water treatment systems.  Neither do they pay any taxes to pay back financing such water systems with municipal bonds.  And, in California, new housing or mobile home parks must comply with the policy of “user pays” (Proposition 13).  Nearby cities do not want to annex these areas or incorporate them and end up paying for their water systems.

Gleick’s policy would incentivize migrants flooding into undeveloped areas for a “free ride” on federally-funded public infrastructure without any way to get recipients to maintain them.  As unfortunate as households without plumbing is, Gleick’s first plank is a non-solution and another Detroit, Michigan water scandal waiting to happen.

Plank 2 – Federal funding for climate change needed to mitigate impact on water systems

Where illegal land divisions for unpermitted migrant settlements are typically located is where there is potential groundwater available for a well.  But groundwater basins do not need “climate change” to be over-drafted and depleted.  Depletion can happen without climate change. New water well drilling costs in California run from $5,000 to $15,000, which is out of the financial reach for such migrant residential settlements.

Moreover, the “groundwater free-for-all,” as Stanford University’s Center for the American West calls it, has come to an end with California’s Groundwater Management Act of 2014. And residents on water wells have been left out of the Groundwater Management Act in favor of farmers, industry and incorporated cities.  Cities typically require that when landowners subdivide their land, they must abandon any wells and hook up to the city system.  Federal funding for nebulous “climate change” impacts on illegal housing settlements is a non-solution.

Plank 3 – Assess vulnerability of US water systems to cyber-attacks and terrorism

Assessments of the proneness of water systems to terrorism has already been done by the US Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) and Department of Health Services (DHS), among other agencies, and is unnecessary.  As the photo above shows, Hoover Dam has a new bridge that diverts traffic from the dam for security purposes.

Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River at Hoover Dam. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Plank 4 – The US has no national water policy but needs one

As stated above, water is mainly a local matter and best dealt with by local water agencies.  Oregon has abundant water, massive rivers and almost no drought. California has cyclical rainstorms and drought is “normal”. Arizona depends on the Colorado River and underground rivers and drought is always threatening.  No one size policy fits all.

No coherent national strategy is needed beyond state and local policies, except where rivers and watersheds straddle or serve more than one state. California already has the Colorado River Compact with Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado.  And there already is a federal water plan for California’s Central Valley. It is called the federal Central Valley Project built in the 1930’s, which supplies about two-thirds of California’s wholesale water. And Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border, provides 50 percent of its hydropower to pump water to Los Angeles at a cheap $20 per megawatt hour ($0.02 per kilowatt hour). No national water plan needed.

Unlike Gleick’s plan, a properly focused California water policy for presidential consideration would:

  1. Continue the policies of the last century, not this one
  2. Avoid featherbedding for redundant water security
  3. Re-focus water policy onto local, not global or unknowable future issues
  4. Realize that California has been managing climate change forever

Gleick’s call for a National Water Plan is nearly identical to his 2012 Twenty-First Century Water Policy he proposed for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.  Gleick’s national water plan of 2012 apparently went nowhere and failed to provide water to migrant encampments in California even under Pres. Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown.

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3 thoughts on “Peter Gleick’s National Water Plan for California

  1. More eco nonsense.
    When did we have to provide utilities to unsanctioned, transient, makeshift cities?
    We have water resources that are being wasted because of climate change policies. Water is diverted into the ocean instead of life sustaining farms. One example is to divert water to protect the Delta Smelt which has not actually saved the fish but wasted precious resources.

    1. Good to see YOU reap the benefits of public infrastructure paid for by others, now forget everyone else; they can figure out how to get clean water on their own. Classy!
      Since you were all over the place with your comment – Farms and golf courses should be required to use reclaimed water anyway. And they be held to the minimal standard of not contaminating local rivers and aquifers with fertilizer run-off.



    Executive Order on Modernizing America’s Water Resource Management and Water Infrastructure

    Issued on: October 13, 2020
    By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

    Section 1. Purpose. Abundant, safe, and reliable supplies of water are critical to quality of life for all Americans, fueling our economy, providing food for our citizens and the world, generating energy, protecting public health, supporting rich and diverse wildlife and plant species, and affording recreational opportunities. While America is blessed with abundant natural resources, those resources must be effectively managed, and our water infrastructure must be modernized to meet the needs of current and future generations.

    Executive departments and agencies (agencies) that engage in water-related matters, including water storage and supply, water quality and restoration activities, water infrastructure, transportation on our rivers and inland waterways, and water forecasting, must work together where they have joint or overlapping responsibilities. This order will ensure that agencies do that more efficiently and effectively to improve our country’s water resource management, modernize our water infrastructure, and prioritize the availability of clean, safe, and reliable water supplies.

    Sec. 2. Policy. It is the policy of the United States to:

    (a) Improve coordination among agencies on water resource management and water infrastructure issues;

    (b) Reduce unnecessary duplication across the Federal Government by coordinating and consolidating existing water related task forces, working groups, and other formal cross-agency initiatives, as appropriate;

    (c) Efficiently and effectively manage America’s water resources and promote resilience of America’s water-related infrastructure;

    (d) Promote integrated planning among agencies for Federal investments in water-related infrastructure; and

    (e) Support workforce development and efforts to recruit, train, and retain professionals to operate and maintain America’s essential drinking water, wastewater, flood control, hydropower, and delivery and storage facilities.

    Sec. 3. Interagency Water Subcabinet. To promote efficient and effective coordination across agencies engaged in water-related matters, and to prioritize actions to modernize and safeguard our water resources and infrastructure, an interagency Water Policy Committee (to be known as the Water Subcabinet) is hereby established. The Water Subcabinet shall be co-chaired by the Secretary of the Interior and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (Co Chairs), and shall include the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of the Army, and the heads of such other agencies as the Co-Chairs deem appropriate. The Department of the Interior or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, provide administrative support as needed for the Water Subcabinet to implement this order.

    Sec. 4. Reducing Inefficiencies and Duplication. Currently, hundreds of Federal water-related task forces, working groups, and other formal cross-agency initiatives (Federal interagency working groups) exist to address water resource management. Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Water Subcabinet shall, to the extent practicable, identify all such Federal interagency working groups and provide recommendations to the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on coordinating and consolidating these Federal interagency working groups, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.

    Sec. 5. Improving Water Resource Management. Federal agencies engage in a wide range of activities relating to water resource management. Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Water Subcabinet shall submit to the Chairman of CEQ, the Director of OMB, and the Director of OSTP a report that recommends actions to address the issues described below, and for each recommendation identifies a lead agency, other relevant agencies, and agency milestones for fiscal years 2021 through 2025:

    (a) Actions to increase water storage, water supply reliability, and drought resiliency, including through:

    (i) developing additional storage capacity, including an examination of operational changes and opportunities to update dam water control manuals for existing facilities during routine operations, maintenance, and safety assessments;

    (ii) coordinating agency reviews when there are multi-agency permitting and other regulatory requirements;

    (iii) increasing engagement with State, local, and tribal partners regarding the ongoing drought along the Colorado River and regarding irrigated agriculture in the Colorado Basin;

    (iv) implementing the “Priority Actions Supporting Long-Term Drought Resilience” document issued on July 31, 2019, by the National Drought Resilience Partnership; and

    (v) improving coordination among State, local, tribal, and territorial governments and rural communities, including farmers, ranchers, and landowners, to develop voluntary, market based water and land management practices and programs that improve conservation efforts, economic viability, and water supply, sustainability, and security;

    (b) Actions to improve water quality, source water protection, and nutrient management; to promote restoration activities; and to examine water quality challenges facing our Nation’s minority and low-income communities, including through:

    (i) implementing the “Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Action Plan III” issued on October 22, 2019, by the EPA for the GLRI Interagency Task Force and Regional Working Group, established pursuant to the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (Public Law 114-322);

    (ii) enhancing coordination among the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force partners to support State implementation of nutrient reduction strategies;

    (iii) increasing coordination between agencies and members of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, established pursuant to the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 (Public Law 104 303), and implementing and completing the activities included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, established pursuant to the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (Public Law 106 541); and

    (iv) continuing implementation of the EPA’s memorandum entitled “Updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Quality Trading Policy to Promote Market-Based Mechanisms for Improving Water Quality” issued on February 6, 2019;

    (c) Actions to improve water systems, including for drinking water, desalination, water reuse, wastewater, and flood control, including through:

    (i) finalizing and implementing, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, the proposed rule entitled “National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Proposed Lead and Copper Rule Revisions,” 84 Fed. Reg. 61684 (Nov. 13, 2019);

    (ii) implementing the “National Water Reuse Action Plan” issued on February 27, 2020, by the EPA;

    (iii) coordinating with the Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force, established pursuant to the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 (Public Law 90-448), on Federal flood risk management policies and programs to better support community needs; and

    (iv) continuing coordination among agencies concerning the Department of Energy’s Water Security Grand Challenge to advance transformational technology and innovation to provide safe, secure, and affordable water; and

    (d) Actions to improve water data management, research, modeling, and forecasting, including through:

    (i) aligning efforts and developing research plans among the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Secretary of the Army, through the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), to ensure that America remains a global leader for water-related science and technology capabilities;

    (ii) implementing common methods of water forecasting, including the use of snow monitoring tools, on a national and basin scale, supported by weather forecasting on all scales;

    (iii) developing state-of-the-art geospatial data tools, including maps, through Federal, State, tribal, and territorial partnerships to depict the scope of waters regulated under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (Public Law 92-500); and

    (iv) implementing actions identified in the “Federal Action Plan for Improving Forecasts of Water Availability” issued on October 18, 2019, by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce pursuant to section 3 of the Presidential Memorandum of October 19, 2018 (Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West).

    Sec. 6. Report. Within 1 year of submitting the report required by section 5 of this order, and annually thereafter, the Water Subcabinet shall update the Chairman of CEQ, the Director of OMB, and the Director of OSTP on the status of the actions identified in the report.

    Sec. 7. Integrated Infrastructure Planning. Agencies oversee a number of programs to enhance coordination of cross agency water infrastructure planning and to protect taxpayer investments. Within 150 days of the date of this order, the Water Subcabinet shall identify and recommend actions and priorities to the Director of OMB, the Chairman of CEQ, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy to support integrated planning and coordination among agencies to maintain and modernize our Nation’s water infrastructure, including for drinking water, desalination, water reuse, wastewater, irrigation, flood control, transportation on our rivers and inland waterways, and water storage and conveyance. The recommendations shall consider water infrastructure programs that are funded by the Department of Defense through the Army Corps of Engineers, and by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Economic Development Administration, and other agencies, as appropriate. Such programs include the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, established pursuant to the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (Public Law 113 121) and amended by the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-270), which modernizes the aging water infrastructure of the United States, improves public health protections, and creates jobs; the Department of Agriculture’s rural development programs, which make and support investments in water infrastructure; and the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service programs, which promote source water protection, improve water quality, and assist with developing new water infrastructure projects.

    Sec. 8. Water Sector Workforce. Trained water-sector professionals are vital to protecting public health and the environment through strategic planning, operation and maintenance of treatment facilities, and implementation of water management programs. Within 150 days of the date of this order, the Water Subcabinet, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the heads of other agencies, as appropriate, shall identify actions and develop recommendations to improve interagency coordination and provide assistance and technical support to State, local, tribal, and territorial governments in order to enhance the recruitment, training, and retention of water professionals within drinking water, desalination, water reuse, wastewater, flood control, hydropower, and delivery and storage sectors. Such recommendations shall be submitted to the Chairman of CEQ, the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

    Sec. 9. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

    (i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

    (ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

    (b) This order shall be implemented in a manner consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

    (c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.


    October 13, 2020.

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