VIDEO: Will El Niño dilute concern over California’s drought?

150 150 John Guenther

Water and California’s drought is the most important issue facing the state. That’s what Californians surveyed by PPIC said in their latest poll, with the economy a close second.

And it’s no wonder. The drought has both laid bare reservoirs and the deficiencies of California’s water systems—from the need for new storage facilities to new approaches for conveying water from north to south. The state has been using more than the water systems can supply for even longer than the drought has been around.

On the horizon, the developing El Niño is predicted to be the warmest–and therefore strongest–one since 1950. The oceanic warming pattern of the El Niño will probably bring a very wet winter to the state, but it won’t end the drought

And that will leave us in the same position: California needs to better manage its water over the very long term.

“It certainly is nothing we can change our game plan for,” said Celeste Cantú, general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA), featured in the video above. “We need to keep our focus on how do we get what little drops we have in our bank account.”

Cantú and other leaders from the water world were in attendence at the 2015 California Economic Summit in Ontario in November, where strategies to conserve, capture and reuse one million more acre-feet of water each year were sharpened.

SAWPA is just one example of comprehensive water strategies discussed at the Summit. The agency practices integrated watershed management that involves 700 miles of river and tributaries in a region encompassing six million people. Solutions to water problems in this type of structure start by “connecting” headwaters and users and urban and rural communities, instead of working as uncoordinated, separate water districts.

By advancing integrated, regional watershed solutions, the Summit could have a big impact on the state’s water challenges, while avoiding contentious, decades-long debates over dams or tunnels. 

Instead, the Summit action plan seeks to tap its coalition’s strengths by advancing next-generation efforts to manage water at the regional or watershed scale—promoting efforts to capture stormwater, replenish groundwater, reduce flooding, and improve water quality so every region can meet as many of its own water needs as possible.

Before that happens, the governance and finance systems to support these types of water investments will have to be built. The Summit can get this done by expanding on recent successes in expanding regional resource planning tools and creating new local financing options that make it easier for local agencies to pay for—and integrate—their water projects.

By engaging the Summit’s network of leaders from the public, private, and civic sectors in every region with this issue, California hopefully won’t find itself in a position where a dangerous and destructive El Niño looks like a saving grace.


John Guenther

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