A woman waters plants at a nursery in 2020. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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.

Gary Arant

Gary Arant is the General Manager at Valley Center Municipal Water District, servicing customers in Valley Center and unincorporated areas north of Escondido....

Kimberly Thorner

Kimberly Thorner is the General Manager at Olivenhain Municipal Water District, servicing customers in Encinitas, Carlsbad, San Diego, Solana Beach, and...

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4 Comments

  1. I agree that California, and San Diego, must continue to make substantial policy and regulation changes and investments relative to water use. However, in this piece, I kept looking for some specific recommendations for improvement of physical water systems and sources but saw only generalized observations plus recommendation to build new water delivery systems, as if that would bring more water in a persistent and unprecedented (in recent centuries) drought.

    Given their age and scale, existing delivery systems undoubtedly need systemic reinforcement but brand new public works projects will not bring us the water that is needed; by the time anything is completed, we’ll be so far into drought – if things don’t change soon – that the new system will have even less water to convey.

    New systems should focus on reclaiming potable water from wastewater, water we already have access to, through expansion of water reclamation facilities, plus physical delivery systems to carry that reclaimed water to existing reservoirs around SD County. San Diego County Water Authority is well along this path. The Pure Water Program has and will continue to reduce the amount of imported water we now buy through MWD. With cuts to Colorado River water allocated to California, this is essential.

    1. I should add that the linked 19-page report, California’s Water Supply Strategy, does provide the level of detail I feel in lacking in the Opinion piece. I’d like to have seen a few of those specific strategies referenced in the Opinion rather than having to read the report in order to get an inkling of key elements of the Strategy.

  2. We live on a planet that is misnamed earth because over 70% of the surface of our planet is water.

    It is the HogWash of the wealthy and their lap dog media that a drought exists anywhere on earth.

    Desalination of salt water is cost effective anywhere in California. If the Wealthy supported cheap water it would help the poor. We know the wealthy do not care about the poor because all of our elected officials staring with governor owe their jobs to the wealthy.

    Conservation of water is a distraction from the Wealthy that rule this state.

    In San Diego in the 70’s, the sub base off Pt. Loma was water self sufficient with a desalination plant located on the base. The unit was so efficient, when Castro shut off water to Guantanamo, The Navy moved the installation there, where it is still working today to provide all water needs for the base.

    There is no shortage of water, just a shortage of leaders who care about providing water for the poor.

  3. “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.”

    It reads like just like what the masters of miscalculated investment would write. Water districts begging for more consumption and a state bailout to accommodate it.

    The Sweetwater Authority’s response to lower demand, they are in drought watch level 1 only, was to destroy the environment maintained by the 75-year historical minimum pool at Loveland Reservoir for a 3-month, maybe less supply of water, despite having been given 31.5 million federal and state funds to expand Reynold’s desalination plant in 2018 to prevent environmental destruction in dry times, and despite the fact, the demand is well down since the installation of the original plant, also with taxpayer money in 1999.

    Sweetwater says the dystopian event at Loveland was for ratepayers. Rates go up on January 1.

    How about an expert opinion piece from a neutral author, or authors, to balance out the SDCWA agenda promoted here?

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