Opinion Columns & Blogs

Pinpointing water content in mountain snow will help California water management

By Anna M. Caballero

This past legislative session, I worked hard with groups like the Turlock Irrigation District and the Friant Water Authority to pass Senate Bill 487, which would have authorized the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to create a statewide Aerial Snow Observatory (ASO) program. Despite unanimous support in every policy and fiscal committee, and in both the Assembly and Senate, Governor Newsom vetoed SB 487, indicating that the bill carried unbudgeted general fund costs.

The Modesto Bee Editorial Board on Oct. 20 accurately outlined the merits of SB 487, and the importance of the ASO, which significantly increases our ability to accurately estimate water content in mountain snowpack through airplane surveys. . Expanding the ASO, however, does not seem to actually be dead with the veto, and that is great news for all Californians.

Recently, my staff attended DWR’s conference on the topic of managed aquifer recharge, known as Flood MAR. Over two days, the conference discussed how DWR and stakeholders will implement an aquifer recharge plan to use high flow water events that California will experience on a more regular basis, due to climate change, to bring our groundwater basins into balance. It’s a smart strategy that requires new science, infrastructure, governance, and funding to be achieved, but that will be a crucial part of driving an integrated surface and groundwater management plan.

DWR ranked priority action items needed for Flood MAR to become a reality with better science, and the most important item is none other than a statewide expansion of the Aerial Snow Observatory.

In coming weeks or maybe just days, the Governor’s Water Resiliency Portfolio will be published for public consumption. Based on DWR’s own Flood MAR plan, it seems that my shared concern with The Modesto Bee’s Editorial Board — that Governor Newsom’s veto of SB 487 was a complete rejection of ASO and the use of science to increase our snowpack-derived water supply — may have been unfounded.

Based on DWR’s own documents, it appears that ASO is the most important science- and data-focused program that needs to be expanded statewide, so that the integral aquifer recharge program can play its role in Governor Newsom’s Water Resiliency Portfolio.

Everyone in the Central Valley will be watching to see ASO’s role in the portfolio, as will other rural regions that will benefit from newfound water supply for environmental, flood control, irrigation, and population growth support. And so will I.

State Senator Anna Caballero represents the 12th Senate district, which includes part of Stanislaus County and the Salinas Valley. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.