By Charles Wilson, Executive Director, Southern California Water Coalition
Let’s be honest, we are all hoping for a better and brighter 2021. Each new year brings the promise of a fresh start. It also marks a perfect time to step back and reaffirm what we want from the next 12 months. Here are my six resolutions for California water moving forward.
Resolution #1: We will maximize every drop to its best and highest use.
Water is vital to our quality of life now and in the future. It’s an essential resource increasingly threatened by the devastating impacts of climate change, and we must collectively work to preserve and protect it for future generations. This means making the most out of every drop we have through stormwater capture, water recycling and reuse, conservation and more.
Southern California has long been a leader in proactively finding flexible and efficient solutions like these, from our robust water conservation programs to our investments in local and regional projects to increase regional self-sufficiency. However, water recycled, groundwater storage and recharge, conservation and stormwater capture projects work in close concert with the stable, baseline supply that the State Water Project provides, helping to double or triple the SWP’s benefits. While we continue to increase our local supplies, SWP water remains an essential source for the state and region.
Resolution #2: Water is California’s issue to solve, not a regional issue for blame.
Building a resilient, statewide water supply portfolio for every Californian means recognizing the unique needs and challenging of each region as well as the power of the collective in charting a path forward. Pitting the northern part of the state against the southern part is the old binary–as water policy expert Timothy J. Quinn said during our “History Matters” webinar in June, this kind of adversarial decision-making process creates a winner-takes-all mentality that locks parties in fighting mode and makes the courtroom the policy forum. Instead, let’s aim for a collaborative process that involves public agencies and stakeholders working together in an open and transparent process, understanding that “collaboration is really hard,” as Quinn said.
Resolution #3: State and Federal Legislators from Southern California will understand more fully where their water comes from.
Water drives California’s economy, sustains our environment, and provides for our unique and treasured quality of life. Yet ask many people where our water supplies come from, and you might get a joking response “from the kitchen tap.” In fact, our water comes from rain and snow, most of which falls in the northern part of the state, while most of our population resides in the southern part of the state. Over the years, water resource development (moving water to where it was needed) has enabled our state to become an economic powerhouse and top agricultural producer while supporting critical eco-systems.
The conviction that water will always just come out of the kitchen tap is not one we should take for granted. Recurring drought cycles, the impacts of climate change, the risk of earthquakes, and aging infrastructure may restrict our ability to meet future demands for a reliable, high quality and affordable water supply. SCWC sees our job this year as to equip its members, legislators and policymakers who represent us with the tools and knowledge needed to stay informed and active in promoting a secure water future. We must meet people where they are and share what we know about the importance of water to the California way of life as well as the urgent need to take action now to shore up a resilient water supply for all Californians. Count on us this year as we continue to produce resources and programming aimed at keeping our stakeholders not just informed but one step ahead as they tackle the latest developments in California water.
Resolution #4: Decisions will be made, and projects built to improve water resiliency BEFORE disaster hits.
The disasters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 were a wake-up call to Californians working on the state’s water issues. The costliest and third-costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, these two hurricanes reminded us of the fragility of our own state water infrastructure from our more likely risks of earthquakes and sea level rise. For example, we know that a big earthquake could have a big impact on our state’s water supply. According to UCLA Professor Jon Stewart, the three main water systems that bring water to Southern California each cross the San Andreas Fault at least once. This means that should the “big one” hit along that fault line, Southern California’s imported water supply from the Colorado River Aqueduct, the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the State Water Project could be severely impacted. This is especially significant for the State Water Project.
About a third of Southern California’s water supply depends on water transported through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Islands in the Delta are protected by 100-year-old levees. Those levees are not likely to survive a major earthquake. Should these levees collapse, saltwater from San Francisco Bay would rush inland, and render water supplies too salty. That could interrupt service to millions of people, farms and businesses. It’s a known risk, and efforts to address it have been underway for years by people across the state. Planning for modernization of this critical statewide water system is underway with the ongoing environmental review of the Delta Conveyance project. We need to do everything we can to keep this important project progressing, along with simultaneous efforts to increase local supplies. Many successful collaborations are triggered by crisis. Let’s create our collaboration before that happens.
Resolution #5: Help create informed consensus about economic feasibility of water projects and policy.
Facts matter. We will continue to work with elected officials, policy makers and leaders to develop and support water projects and policies based on sound science and verifiable facts rather than more political motivations. For example, finding ways to address emerging contaminants in water must be done with an eye toward solutions that take into account the challenges and perspectives of both large and small water systems in meeting safe drinking water standards.
Resolution #6: Water managers in California will voluntarily agree to work together.
Smart, adaptive and real-time management of water resources is best achieved by those parties with the most at stake. That’s why we urge collaboration between state, federal and local water agencies in managing water resources and planning for the future. Successful voluntary agreements hold the key to improving conditions for fish and wildlife while ensuring water flows to the people and the economies that depend on it. We take heart and hope to follow the example of collaborative success stories such as those pointed out by Quinn during his June address to our organization: the San Gabriel and Santa Ana River watersheds, both of which demonstrated a decades-long transition from adversarialism to successful collaboration. The Butte Creek Salmon Restoration Project, the Yuba River Accord, the Lower Colorado River Multispecies Conservation Plan, and the Battle Creek Restoration Project are other instances. Let us allow these examples to assure us that more can be done if we get the right people around the table.