Governor Brown had it about right during his inaugural speech when he said that California always focuses on the same recurring issues: education, crime, budgets and water.
The supply, the conservation and the quality of California water are constant public policy needs.
So when Mother Nature gave us much more precipitation than we expected this winter, isn’t a shame that we wasted so much of it?
Because the state does not have enough storage capacity for these surplus flows, more than two million acre feet of water may already have been lost. It simply went into the rivers that feed the San Francisco Bay and ultimately flowed out through the Golden Gate and into the Pacific.
2 million acre feet is about 5 percent of the water that we use in California in a given year. And if history is any guide, there will come a day – a dry day – when we will need it. In fact, the agricultural interests in the Central Valley would tell you they need it right now.
What to do?
We can’t afford to increase surface storage right now. It seems there is neither the money nor the political will to do it.
But we can and must increase the amount of water we save beneath us, called groundwater. As Californians, we are not taking advantage of groundwater storage, which is very cost effective as compared to building new surface reservoirs. A statewide effort needs to be made to construct the facilities needed to divert surplus runoff into underground storage.
Groundwater supplies nearly half the drinking water in the state. While the recent storms certainly helped naturally replenish some of the groundwater supply, we lost a lot of what nature gave us in California because of our inability to capture and store it. Storage is the key to future reliable water supplies.
Last week, the Association of California Water Agencies unveiled a new policy framework that calls on local water agencies to implement groundwater management plans and strategies to make sure that the groundwater supply is protected.
At the Central Basin Municipal Water District in southeast Los Angeles County, we are already working on the groundwater issue. Central Basin is the legal “guardian” of the 270 square mile Central Groundwater Basin which provides drinking water for more than 2.5 million residents in the region.
We believe that smart local water policy is good for our region and the people we serve. What is good for our region is good for California, and we aim to practice what we preach.
David Hill is water resources manager for Central Basin