California water — starting to boil as political issue?

150 150 John Guenther

California’s water access and will continue to be a topic of contention until something is done (Photo Credit: slinky2000)

Water is always an issue in California, sometimes, if you’ll pardon the pun, just bubbling below the surface of public consciousness.

Given the dry winter we have had–our snowpack is a dangerous 52% of normal, and the political attention being paid to the water infrastructure, we can expect to be hearing and seeing more.

Governor Brown has called water a chronic issue in the history of the state and he’s right. And he is talking about it again, which has triggered multiple conversations on the subject across the state.

A water summit was held recently to discuss this very complex and important issue. Leaders are trying to wrap their arms around an already delicate issue being complicated by budget issues and climate change. Speakers highlighted a recent report showing seven million Californians are living in high-risk flood zones.

Another summit, The California Economic Summit, has also called out the water issue, in this case the building and maintenance of water infrastructure, as one of the Signature Initiatives for fixing the economy of this state.

“All Californians should be pleased that the Governor is showing leadership on this critical infrastructure issue,” said Pete Weber of Fresno, a businessman who also serves on the Leadership Council for California Forward

“His attention to the issue has triggered multiple conversations across the State, and we should all be encouraged that, influenced in part by the ‘water modernization’ proposal presented at the 2012 California Economic Summit, the conversations are becoming increasingly more constructive and encouraging,” said Weber. “Californians have fought water wars for generations, pitting regions and interest groups against each other. But there’s a new tone developing–a recognition that the near-term and long-term solutions have to address the needs of environmental, urban, agricultural and industrial users as well as the needs of every region.”

We asked Weber to share more of his thoughts about the water issue that he has worked on and studied for many, many years.

“More and more, we are hearing that the long-term solution requires linked actions that not only include facilities to capture and store water during ‘wet’ years and convey it to where it is needed when it is needed, but also a strategic levee system and habitat restoration to ensure the sustainability of the Delta, more through-Delta conveyance, conservation, regional water development, water quality management, and a ‘smart’ operational strategy for Delta exports and ecosystem restoration. These linked-action components are all critical to achievement of the two Co-Equal Goals approved by the legislature: Water Reliability and Delta Sustainability.

There is also growing recognition that implementing such a long-term solution will require 10 to 15 years, if not longer, and that interim solutions can and must be put in place now. In a year of drought, such as we are experiencing today, the clamor for near-term solutions will likely reach fever pitch in the San Joaquin Valley, where water allocations have been cut to 20% and people remember the long food lines in 2009 when unemployment exceeded 40% in many rural communities.

Modernization of California’s water systems is long overdue. California’s water system was designed for 18 million people. We are now at 38 million and will likely reach 45 million before major new systems are built. We are living on borrowed time. This is the year in which solutions must be found. We encourage constructive engagement from all who wish to contribute ideas to the dialogue.”

Because there are water problems doesn’t mean the voters are in a good place about fixing them. The long-awaited California water bond is not, as currently constructed, very politically popular. Everyone in Sacramento knows this. But the issue is important, and some tough decisions need to be made by those authoring the bond and those of us who depend on water for our everyday lives in the state.


John Guenther

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