BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                             Senator Fran Pavley, Chair
                                2015 - 2016  Regular 

          Bill No:            SB 758          Hearing Date:    April 28,  
          |Author:    |Block                  |           |                 |
          |Version:   |April 21, 2015    Amended                            |
          |Urgency:   |No                     |Fiscal:    |Yes              |
          |Consultant:|Dennis O'Connor                                      |
          |           |                                                     |
            Subject:  Atmospheric Rivers Research and Mitigation Program.

          The Natural Resources Agency's (NRA's) mission is to "restore,  
          protect and manage the state's natural, historical and cultural  
          resources for current and future generations using creative  
          approaches and solutions based on science, collaboration and  
          respect for all the communities and interests involved."  It  
          does this largely through the 7 departments, 2 museums, 17  
          boards and commissions, and 9 conservancies organized under it. 

          One of the departments under the NRA is the Department of Water  
          Resources (DWR).  DWR's mission is "to manage the water  
          resources of California in cooperation with other agencies, to  
          benefit the State's people, and to protect, restore, and enhance  
          the natural and human environments." Among the various divisions  
          and offices with DWR is the Hydrology and Flood Operations  
          Office.  That office is responsible for directing the DWR's  
          flood and water supply forecasting operations, hydrology and  
          climatology studies, emergency flood operations, and flood  
          control project inspections and encroachment permitting.  The  
          Office also includes the California State Climatologist.

          PROPOSED LAW
          This bill would establish within the NRA the Atmospheric Rivers  
          Research and Mitigation Program (program).  Under the program,  
          the NRA would be required to research the causes and effects of  
          atmospheric rivers, and take all actions within its existing  


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          authority to capture water generated by atmospheric rivers in  
          order to increase the water supply and reliability of water  
          resources in the state and to operate reservoirs in a manner  
          that improves flood protection in the state.

          The bill would also create the Atmospheric Rivers Research and  
          Mitigation Fund for the deposit of moneys to be expended by the  
          NRA for the program.

          According to the author, "California has the most variable  
          precipitation annually of any location in the U.S., ranging from  
          severe drought to major floods.   Research has shown that this  
          variability is largely due to a weather condition known as  
          "atmospheric rivers" (AR). AR are responsible for 30-50% of  
          California's precipitation and water supply in just a handful of  
          days each year.  Pineapple Express Storms are a common example  
          of AR."
          "Better forecasting of ARs (from hours, to days, weeks and  
          seasons) has the potential to enable new levels of both water  
          supply and flood protection through the use of  
          "Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations" (FIRO).  A pilot  
          project to test the feasibility of FIRO is being planned by an  
          expert committee on a vital reservoir on the Russian River, Lake  
          Mendocino. It is led by researchers at the Center for Western  
          Weather and Water Extremes at the University of California San  
          Diego and the Sonoma County Water Agency. This pilot project has  
          the potential to predict AR patterns to make intelligent water  
          management decisions in order to both collect additional water  
          supply and protect against floods. Seasonal AR outlooks are  
          another promising direction that could help water managers and  
          emergency preparedness officials anticipate and prepare for  
          drought and/or flood.  Developing such outlooks is on the  
          cutting edge of science today and SB 758 ensures the state  
          develops a program to study AR."

          ARGUMENTS IN OPPOSITION: None received

           Current Operation Of Flood Control Dams.   When dams are built  
          for flood control, a flood operations curve is developed to  
          govern flood operations throughout the year. Also known as "rule  
          curves," these curves define how full a reservoir can be for  


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          each day of the year, versus how much space must be reserved for  
          potential flood flows.  Rule curves are determined based on an  
          analysis of historic weather and runoff patterns and the  
          potential economic loss due to flooding.

          Because most of California's dams were built in the mid-1900s,  
          the historical record used to create rule curves includes only  
          the first half of the 20th century.  While our knowledge of and  
          ability to forecast weather has improved, and land use patterns  
          have changed significantly since the initial rule curves were  
          calculated, the rule curves have not typically been updated.   
          Indeed, one common complaint about rule curves is that they do  
          not take into consideration weather forecasts.

           Why The Natural Resources Agency Instead Of DWR?   It is not  
          clear why the program should be housed in the NRA instead of  
          DWR.  As noted in the background, DWR is home for the Hydrology  
          and Flood Operations Office, which is responsible for directing  
          the DWR's flood and water supply forecasting operations,  
          hydrology and climatology studies.  The program proposed by this  
          bill would seem like a natural fit within that office. (See  
          suggested amendment)

           What Type Of Program Is Envisioned?   The language of the bill is  
          rather broad in its direction.  It is not clear from the  
          language whether the program would be some sort of research  
          grant program, a staff driven research program, or something  

          The supporting materials provided by the bill's proponents  
          suggest something else - an autonomous program ostensibly run by  
          or through University of California San Diego/Scripps  
          Institution of Oceanography.  Specifically, they are proposing a  
          Lake Mendocino FIRO study, which would include identifying,  
          assessing and enhancing the best science available to improve  
          operations to maximize food control, water supply and ecosystem  

          (Lake Mendocino is located on the East Fork of the Russian River  
          in Mendocino County.  The reservoir provides both flood control  
          on the Russian River and water supply to Sonoma County Water  

           Carve-Out For Scripps?   The Scripps Institute includes many of  


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          the top researchers in atmospheric science.  But, they are far  
          from the only California based institution investigating the  
          climate in general or AR specifically.  Such institutions  
          include a number of the UCs, such as UC Irvine, UCLA, and UC  
          Berkeley, as well as private institutions such as Stanford,  
          CalTech, and JPL.  If this is to be a state program, perhaps a  
          more open directed research program would be more appropriate.

           Where Is The Funding Coming From? The bill creates the  
          Atmospheric Rivers Research and Mitigation Fund to fund the  
          program.  The appropriations committee will likely explore the  
          potential sources for funding the program as well as the amount  
          of funds requested.

          Move the program to DWR, amend the current language into the  
          Water Code as a new article within Chapter 2.5 Miscellaneous  
          Powers of the Department (WC 200 et seq.) to be titled Article  
          8. Atmospheric Rivers Research and Mitigation, and make other  
          conforming changes.
          Bay Area Flood Protection Agencies Association
          Orange County Water District
          Sonoma County Water Agency

          None Received

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