If we’ve been even remotely conscious of our surroundings, we’ve heard or seen headlines such as these: “California Governor Declares Drought Emergency”, Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2014; “17 California Communities Could Run Out of Water Soon,” Associated Press, January 29, 2014; “Meager Snowpack Bad News for Drought-Plagued California” – USA Today, April 2, 2014.
Our reactions to these types of headlines vary, influenced by where we live, our occupation, our political affiliation, and many other variables. We take for granted the needs of our state’s 38 million residents for a reliable source of clean potable water. Some lament the quantity of water used in our agricultural economy, yet complain when the price of fruit or produce goes up. Others laugh when they read about millions of salmon smolts being moved from streams to the ocean in trucks to bypass streams that are both too low and too warm to allow effective natural migration.
It’s incumbent upon all of us to wake up and realize that all of these issues are interconnected. Water is the cornerstone of California’s economy, and supply reliability is vital to maintaining our way of life and the environment in which we live. Clearly, water supply and water quality needs are different for urban, agricultural, and environmental uses, and steadfast opposition between these competing interests have resulted in legislative gridlock to the detriment of meaningful progress.
We face many water-related issues, listed in no particular order of importance: inconsistent supply of fresh water, inadequate storage to capitalize on wet years, a primary potable water delivery system that relies on a system of aging levees, rapidly declining health of the Delta ecosystem, contaminated aquifers, and threat of saltwater intrusion resulting from failure of levees in the delta. Competing political views and deep-rooted differences in public opinion between northern, central, and southern California have long-stymied collaboration in developing common sense and science-based solutions for a sustainable water supply.
We’ve made progress over the years locally with respect to conservation, water recycling and reuse, groundwater replenishment, and some seawater desalination, but we have not implemented an integrated statewide water resources management plan. We need to expand our conservation efforts throughout the state; develop additional above- and below-ground storage, both north and south of the Delta; develop and implement water recycling projects for direct and indirect potable reuse; develop stormwater capture and viable desalination projects; repair, reinforce, and/or reconstruct delta levees; improve the reliability of our north-to-south water delivery system, and restore the health of the Delta ecosystem. These solutions, implemented together, will improve the reliability of the water supply for all Californians.
In an article posted in the Imperial Valley Press on March 22, Senator Barbara Boxer said it well, “All stakeholders must figure this out together. Because if our farmers are hurting we all feel it. When our fisheries die off we all feel it. When no one can ski and the recreation industry goes downhill, we all feel it. And if all of us can’t get the water we need, we all feel it.”
Our industry possesses the knowledge and skill to solve these technical problems. It is time to engage in our political process and demand that our legislature work together to solve these issues. In the midst of this drought, the political timing may be right. As Paul Romer, New York University economist said in 2004, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Let’s not forget that it’s only the very livelihood of California that is at stake.
For more information on California’s water crisis, read ACEC California’s latest issues of Engineering and Surveying Business Review at the link below. You will find articles about the severe drought that continues to impact the entire state and ACEC California members offer potential solutions to our state’s water woes.