California water issues threaten state’s economy

150 150 Ed Coghlan

Sacramento River Levee
A broken Sacramento River levee during a flood in 1997. (Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The headline is actually is a little misleading. It might better read that California water issues have always threatened California’s economy.

The Public Policy Institute of California is the latest to weigh in on the issue, they issued a report this week. It calls for the continued expansion of water management tools, such as the reuse of highly treated wastewater, underground storage and water “banking,” to allow California to manage future water shortages.

Many Californians forget or don’t even know that water is actually scarce in the Golden State. It is an issue that has vexed state leaders for many years. It is an issue that the first California Economic Summit tackled last month and continues to work on in anticipation of the release of the Summit report at the end of June. For a glimpse of the complex issue, take a look at pages 23 and 24 of the Summit playbook.

Water has pitted regions of California against each other. Northern Californians growl about Southern California taking their water. The Central Valley, the world’s most prolific agricultural region, needs access to water to continue to grow the food that millions of people eat and creates millions of dollars in exports.

Luckily, we are better at saving water than we’ve ever been. Agricultural water use has declined since the 1980s as farmers have improved irrigation efficiency and shifted toward crops that generate more value and profits per volume of water used, such as fruits, nuts and vegetables. According to the report, agriculture and related manufacturing make up just two percent of the state GDP and four percent of all jobs in the state.

Urban water use has leveled off since the mid-1990s despite population growth. Water efficient appliances, such as showers and toilets, have generated much of the savings in water use.

Despite all this, the system will need continuing pricey maintenance and costly upgrades to keep the economy going and to prevent catastrophic events. And, according to the report, there‚Äôs room for increased conservation, particularly from urban landscapes. 

You’ll be hearing a lot of about this issue in June. The PPIC will hold a meeting on June 5, and the Summit will release its findings at the end of the month.


Ed Coghlan

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