Governor Signs Bill to Increase the Use of Stream Gages for Better Water Management

By on October 6, 2019

Senate Bill 19, authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-District 3-Napa), was recently signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom. The legislation will require the Department of Water Resources (DWR), following an appropriation of funds by the Legislature, to develop a plan to deploy a network of stream gages that for modernizing and reactivating existing gages and deploying new gages. The bill also requires DWR, in consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Conservation, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, interested stakeholders, and local agencies as applicable, to develop the plan to address significant gaps in information necessary for water management and for the conservation of freshwater species.

“Water is an essential resource in California that must be protected and carefully managed,” Sen. Dodd said. “It is quite simply the lifeblood of our state. Stream gages provide important information in this era of droughts and flooding, driven in part by climate change. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Current stream gages in California have been found to be lacking. Only 54 percent of the state’s 3,600 stream gages have been active in recent times. Even fewer provide rich, real-time reporting needed to manage this valued resource.

California is saddled with one of the nation’s most complex water systems. Moving millions of gallons of captured precipitation across the state from north to south and east to west and maintaining the state’s 39 million residents and $47 billion farming industry – along with diverse wildlife from the Sierra to the sea – is an expensive and very inexact process. Yet there is little data, much less real time data, is available about how much water is coursing through streams at any given time.

“SB 19 is an important breakthrough in establishing a state role in deploying stream gages to better understand and measure stream flows,” said Jay Ziegler, policy director at The Nature Conservancy. “This legislation builds upon Sen. Dodd’s leadership in advancing open and transparent water data and is critically important toward reaching sustainable water management in California.

The bill would require the Department of Water Resources and the board to give priority in the plan to placing or modernizing and reactivating stream gages where lack of data contributes to conflicts in water management or where water can be more effectively managed for multiple benefits and to consider specified criteria in developing the plan.