California’s water supply crisis has hit a tipping point, with impacts spreading far and wide, reaching local communities and critical industries, putting us once again in jeopardy.
This is a pivotal moment in the state’s future – one in which bold political leadership will emerge, or future generations will suffer. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement on his new water supply plan, is encouraging that leadership is materializing, but the proof is in the pudding.
The new plan, California’s Water Supply Strategy: Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future, underscores the significant challenges we face as a result of a changing climate, the need to transform the current water system, and the importance of significantly investing in California water systems to secure the future of California’s water supply and reliability. The plan outlines water supply strategies and includes a pledge to fast track the advancement of policies and new projects to begin addressing California’s water supply crisis. While this new plan is promising, there is still significant work that needs to be done to adequately address California’s perpetual droughts and water supply crisis.
As a result of California’s systemic and repetitive water supply crisis, California is experiencing a decline in economic activity, restricting recreation and tourism, and seeing large-scale job losses annually – all of this despite being the fifth largest economy in the world.
We need to reverse the trend of water cutbacks and rationing and rectify the decades-long, statewide water supply crisis that is impacting 40 million Californians.
Water agencies across the State are sounding the alarm that the state can no longer take the expedient path and simply remain at the mercy of the current inadequate and inefficient system. The state has a responsibility to build a system that will provide enough water for present needs and a new system to serve the needs of the next generation. In June, as instructed by Gov. Newsom, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency water conservation regulation directing local agencies to step up their efforts. San Diego water agencies have instituted conservation programs and improved local infrastructure and operations, reducing our water use by 30 percent from 1990 to 2020. But despite the tremendous local conservation efforts and investments in our regional water resources and infrastructure, climate change and radical changes in critical State Water Project and Colorado River water supplies have put our region at risk and potentially subject to mandatory water supply cutbacks.
The state needs to act on two fronts.
First, water agencies need to continue to work with residents and businesses to navigate through the current crisis. We support the Governor’s call for conservation in our current crisis.
More broadly, the state needs to follow-through on the three generational solutions – more storage, better conveyance, and improved operations – that have been discussed and debated for decades.
Storage is essential to adapt to the changing weather patterns and the uncertainty of climate change. We can no longer rely on the winter snowpack to provide a reliable source of water throughout the year. We need to store water when we have precipitation and release that water for environmental, residential, business, and agricultural use when the snowpack cannot provide sufficient water supply.
The federal and state water projects need improved infrastructure that is not constrained by a host of operational impediments. California has invested in improvements for highways, bridges, airports and other critical parts of the state’s infrastructure, the state needs to rebuild the water delivery system to improve the infrastructure that moves water throughout the state.
The operations of the state’s water system also needs to be improved to provide more flexibility and certainty. The operational inefficiencies have resulted in curtailed water deliveries and resulting in rate increases for residential and business users. Flexibility and more certainty in the operations will allow water agencies to better manage the costs of upgrading local water systems, expanded conservation programs, and additional water supply needs.
Big changes, like Hoover Dam, the state highway system, and the world-renowned state university systems were not easy to approve or inexpensive to complete, but previous generations mustered the will and resources to get the job done.
We look forward to collaborating with the Administration and the Legislature to get this critically important work done and implement the Governor’s new water supply plan.