New Bill Seeks to Accurately Measure Water Flows in California Waterways

Lake Oroville in a dry water year. Photo by Manny Becerra.

A new bill introduced by State Senator Bill Dodd seeks to expand California’s water monitoring systems by requiring the state to measure water flow in thousands of local streams. The goal is to protect the state’s water supply, which is critical for California’s ecosystem, economy, and the livelihood of millions of residents.

Currently, the state collects data on hundreds of waterways through the use of stream gauges. Stream gauges record the amount of water flowing in a river or stream. However, over 3,200 local waterways, accounting for 70% of the state’s streams, have never been measured with a stream gauge. On top of that, 15% of waterways don’t have active gauges, and less than half of the state’s roughly 1,000 active gauges provide key water management data like temperature and sedimentation.

Senate Bill 361 aims to address this gap by requiring the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board to reactivate dormant stream gauges, update existing ones, or install new ones throughout the state by 2030. This would significantly expand the state’s ability to measure water flow and collect data on water management.

The bill also requires data from gauges that are installed and operated with public funding to be posted publicly within 10 days of collection. This provision aims to improve transparency and enable the public to access real-time information on water flow and management.

“Water is the lifeblood of California, and we must ensure it is managed correctly,” said Senator Dodd. “Unfortunately, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and our stream monitoring systems need help.”

The bill was introduced on February 8th and is sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy. State legislators are expected to take up the bill by mid-March at the earliest, once it has been in print for at least a month.

Expanding the state’s water monitoring systems is critical for protecting California’s water supply and managing it effectively. With the passing of Senate Bill 361, the state will be better equipped to measure and manage water flow, and ensure that California’s water resources are protected for generations to come.

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