Civil engineer Steve Moore served on the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board from 2008 to 2012 and was appointed to the State Water Resources Control Board by Governor Jerry Brown in May 2012. Moore is also a member of the Estuary News editorial board and a valued source on water issues. We asked Moore to reflect on how the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan may have changed the State Board’s philosophy and practice. Moore’s statements do not represent opinions of the other State Board members nor the Brown administration.
Q: How has the State Water Board’s institutional culture evolved over the past 20 years? Was it influenced by the CCMP?
A: The CCMP goals revolved a lot around restoration of various functions—habitat, hydrology – and around pollution prevention. Those concepts in the early 90s weren’t central to State Board operations, which were more concerned with water rights and transfers. Water quality was left more to the Regional Boards and their Basin Plans. Today, I think the State Board is more active in terms of the CCMP goals, and more engaged with issues of regional importance that have statewide applications, than it was 20 years ago. For example, these days the State Board coordinates more closely with the Regional Boards on issues of statewide concern, such as stormwater permits. This year’s Phase 2 General Permit touches on every region, for instance addressing statewide minimum requirements for design of urban drainage to prevent stormwater pollution. In terms of the Board’s culture, we’ve shifted to more engagement with the Regional Boards and to strengthening their effectiveness. So the CCMP’s restoration and pollution prevention goals are more aligned with what the State Board does today. There’s an ownership of that role. We’re careful to emphasize that we want to empower Regional Boards and stakeholders to tailor the statewide programs to their regions because of the natural and hydrologic variability. There has to be a different approach to how you manage these issues in Eureka, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tahoe. Another change I’ve seen is how we’ve become more sophisticated, collectively over the last 20 years, in how we measure whether our water quality standards [have resulted in] environmental improvements.
In hindsight, you might say there was an awakening in California’s consciousness, and that the State Board was part of that trend, as was the CCMP. Since then there have been various decisions around the state that recognize that water isn’t just for agricultural and municipal use, it’s also for ecosystem use. The CCMP was, and still is, a credible, collaborative articulation within the whole dialogue of the decisions California makes on where water is directed and how it’s used. We’ve modified the water system so profoundly that when we seek to restore ecosystem function it requires many organizations, institutions, and people working together to manage this modified system. I think we need to embrace a more holistic picture of water resource use — not just delivering water to cities and farms — to create a more sustainable California. The decision the State Board made in Mono Lake in 1994 offers an example of this kind of holistic view. We’ve also made smaller decisions around groundwater basins—not as landmark as Mono Lake, but still more holistic. Sometimes just proposing these kinds of environmental resource protection decisions provokes action. In 1995, on the Carmel River, the Board issued a decision that wells in the alluvial plain were dewatering the river. The Board put California-American Water Company and various cities on notice that their diversions exceeded the legal water requirement, which resulted in the integration of ecosystem water needs with ongoing water supply planning around the Monterey peninsula.
Q. Is Board action helping Bay-Delta Planning be more holistic?
A. In the Bay-Delta, the holistic approach is happening in fits and starts. The 2006 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan upheld the 1995 structure of state objectives. But this is under revision right now, spurred on by the Delta Reform Act of 2009 and the establishment of the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem protection, looking at Delta flow and tributary flow requirements. A Substitute Environmental Document, the functional equivalent of an EIR, on San Joaquin River flows and South Delta salinity requirements has been drafted and received extensive comments, and will be revised and re-noticed early 2014. That process is ongoing. It continues the state’s effort to balance environmental resource protection goals with agricultural and municipal water use goals.
Q: How is climate change, including the prospect of increased water scarcity, affecting the State Board’s role?
A: Climate change is a catalyst for creativity in terms of water supplies, and for integrating water resource [management] across different disciplines and program areas. Climate change needs to be addressed to create resiliency in human and natural systems, and integrated water management will better provide for multiple benefit outcomes that will help us adapt to climate change. Generally in the 20th century, issues of water supply, flood control, water quality, stormwater drainage, groundwater recharge, and fish and wildlife, evolved separately, with separate infrastructure. Going forward, we’ll have to manage water in a more integrated fashion, and the State Board is trying to do its part. It’s bigger than any one person or agency. Perhaps it’s helpful to frame it this way: In the 20th century model, we managed challenges as they arose, as floods challenged our homes or as sewage compromised clean water, for example. Moving forward in the 21st century, with climate change, population increase, and infrastructure decay all staring us down, we have to rethink how we manage water in terms of the built environment and such fragmented governance. The Integrated Regional Water Management legislation in 2002 happened at a symbolic time—right at the turn of the century. It tried to protect the environment and create better water use efficiency by providing funding for disparate management agencies to get together and collectively prioritize their expenditures. The CCMP was part of that shift—putting a really cogent vision together on what it would take to have both sustainability and water resource protection. If you look at different agency mission statements, it’s interesting to compare mission statements in the 70s and now. The Kings River Conservation District’s mission statement, for example, now looks a lot like the State Board’s mission statement. They recognize a broader array of water resource outcomes in their goals and objectives. EBMUD and many others are also embracing a broader statement of objectives. Mission statements set the tone for institutions, and broader missions will result in more balanced, sustainable water resources management. I think it’s a natural evolution. Knowledge and integration empower us to enact institutional change.
Interview by Joe Eaton.