Eleven Summit ideas for reacting to California drought while advancing sustainable prosperity

150 150 Justin Ewers

(photo credit: Matthew Grant Anson)

The California Economic Summit submitted a letter to the Governor and Legislative leaders today with 11 recommendations detailing how the state can respond to one of the worst droughts in the last century by providing relief where it is needed most—while also taking the right next steps to put all of the state’s regions on a path to sustainable economic vitality.

Dangerously low reservoirs, hundreds of thousands of acres of fallow farmland, and looming water shortages in many communities have created an urgent need for action this year. Between the state budget, drought response legislation, and several other policy vehicles outlined in the Summit letter, state leaders could invest over $1.3 billion in water projects, a figure federal drought funds could push close to $2 billion and a new water bond could move past $9 billion. 

For the California Economic Summit, a partnership between California Forward and the California Stewardship Network to unite regional leaders around a shared prosperity agenda, these new investments in the state’s aging water management systems are essential. But they’re only a beginning.

The drought imperative offers an opportunity to ensure these funds support California communities struggling this year—while also advancing the new paradigm in which the state sets goals and regions compete on a performance basis to craft strategies that deliver results. These drought-related investments also provide the opportunity to create incentives for the integrated approaches essential to advancing the triple bottom line—simultaneously protecting the environment, supporting diverse economies, and increasing opportunities for all Californians.

Where the Summit’s ideas come from
This strategy is supported by participants in the Economic Summit, who have built on the work of the Summit’s 2012 Water Action Team to collect some of the best thinking in California about how to structure future investments in infrastructure, working landscapes, and sustainable communities. 

The Summit letter outlines a range of decisions the Administration and Legislature will make in the coming months—many of them driven by the urgency of the drought—that will have long-term ramifications for the state’s economy.

The Summit is prepared to work with state leaders to ensure these policy choices put the state on the path to sustainability and equip California's regions to remain competitive even in a future of climate uncertainty. They include:

  • The 2014-15 state budget: While the drought has created a justifiable sense of urgency, the long-term effectiveness of several major investments outlined in the state budget will depend on how these dollars are allocated and how fast the state can progress toward encouraging regional solutions to regional problems of statewide significance. This includes more than $600 million in water investments through the governor’s Water Action Plan, new authority for Infrastructure Financing Districts that could make it easier for communities to invest in water management, and a proposed $100 million grant program to support the development of sustainable communities strategies.
  • Other drought-related investments: The drought has inspired a range of executive and legislative activity that should not only provide immediate aid to those impacted by water, but should lay a foundation for more sustainable water use. This includes drought emergency legislation to free up $687 million in state funds for water projects, proposals to streamline the water transfer and permitting process to ensure water gets where it’s needed most, a revamped water bond that encourages regions to manage water sustainably, and proposed congressional action.
  • Major environmental and land-use planning efforts: California has established one of the nation’s most robust legal frameworks for advancing environmental sustainability. The water emergency should encourage the state to incorporate into planning processes the actual scenarios in which a more-populous California will need to thrive. This is especially true for the soon-to-be-released Environmental Goals and Policy Report, the state’s environmental policy framework for the next 20 to 30 years, which must ensure its goals and objectives for land-use, conservation of natural resources, and water quality reflect the new realities evident in the current drought.
  • Opportunities to use technology: Unlike previous droughts, the state in 2014 is in a position to respond to its water challenges in ways that use technology to empower more Californians to be part of the solution. This should involve identifying the data that will have the greatest impact on water use and creating a mechanism for allowing problem-solvers to request and access it. The state should also scale up statewide existing open-source software and resource planning efforts that are helping regions make informed decisions about water infrastructure.

The Summit letter offers more detail on each of these proposals, providing state leaders with a framework for taking immediate action to support struggling California communities—while also ensuring California can meet its water needs in the decades to come.

To download a copy of the Summit letter, click here.


Justin Ewers

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