VIDEO: Capitol Day turns California water, landscapes and economy beyond the drought

150 150 John Guenther

Living in a new, drier future and the effect of that on the California economy took a priority slot during California Economic Summit – Capitol Day 2014 in Sacramento (video above). Joining the conversation about how the state and its regions can better manage our water and working landcapes was Celeste Cantú, general manager of the Santa Ana River Watershed Authority (SAWPA) and a former executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board.

“We’re just desperately trying to get back to the way my great grandparents managed water here in California,” said Cantú. “They really had a water ethic. They knew where their water came from. Nobody ever knows that anymore. There’s a handful of people now who know that kind of stuff.”

CAeconomy profiled Cantú and how the future of California water management lies in the past, when SAWPA set out on a path to sustainable water reliability through an integrated approach.

When voters approved a $2 billion water bond in 2000, most of the funds were distributed in the traditional way—scattered among water projects all over California. But for a group of five Orange County and Inland Empire water districts, the measure tried a new approach. The water managers of the Santa Ana River watershed—collectively known as the Santa Ana River Watershed Authority (SAWPA)—were authorized to spend $235 million on “integrated” projects along the entire river, from forest programs in the mountains around Big Bear to conservation and flood control programs in the valleys below.

This bold gamble—handing state resources over to a regional authority to accomplish a state goal—had its skeptics at the time, but it has paid off handsomely. The SAWPA collaboration—which has invested billions of dollars in water storage, groundwater cleanup, water recycling, and stormwater management—has allowed the region to store and conserve so much water that cities from San Bernardino to Newport Beach have hardly been impacted at all by this year’s drought.

“So, when we look at integration the big job is identifying the beneficial uses even the beneficial uses that go to the small voices who are not powerful, even if they are ugly looking fish, and look at where do we integrate all of this and find synergies and understand dependencies and therefore develop a more sustainable future,” said Cantú at Capitol Day.

“I really want to applaud this group. Your job, it seems to me, is to carve out teachable moments for increasingly diverse venues of people. So, at the end of the game, people really realize that this water ethic is really important.”

This part of the Capitol Day series includes the following speakers:

Secretary Karen Ross of the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture
Secretary John Laird of the California Natural Resources Agency
Lester Snow, executive director of the California Water Foundation
Celeste Cantu, general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority
Moderator Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council.

Watch Part One of Capitol Day: “Welcome & The Summit Plan to Advance Prosperity,” Part Two “Training Workers for the Next Economy & Speaker Atkins,” and Part Three “Capitol Day asks Senator Steinberg how California economy can grow sustainably.”

And you can catch all of the other sections of the Capitol Day program on this YouTube playist. Thanks goes to CalChannel for recording and editing their video of Capitol Day.


John Guenther

All stories by: John Guenther