California Must Enact Solutions to Address Water Crisis

Rowland Water District and Others Call for Action

ROWLAND HEIGHTS, Calif., Dec. 1, 2022 As California confronts another extended drought and its impacts, it is more obvious than ever that the state has failed to address its water supply and management challenges for far too long.

The immediate fallout of the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in is frightening: local residents with wells running dry; urban water rationing and critical shortages; massive fallowing of some of the nation’s most productive agricultural land and the resulting impacts on food prices; and significant uncertainty about our ability to adapt to the future. The long-term effects are even more dire.

The viability of California’s $3.4 trillion economy is at stake as we face limited growth potential. Consequences to the state’s agricultural enterprise – long considered the nation’s breadbasket – have already begun to show themselves, with our rural communities experiencing $1.2 billion in direct losses and hundreds of thousands of acres fallowed in 2021, and more expected in 2022.

Our arrival at this alarming place is rooted in history. The supply and delivery system for 32 million people, more than 2 million acres of farmland and businesses across the state is faltering for numerous reasons.

Despite tens of billions of dollars in voter-approved water resource bonds over the last 25 years, Californians have been unable to build any significant new storage or conveyance facilities due to permitting delays and bureaucracy. History shows us that, when we choose to, we can do better – the 1950s-1960s construction of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) are evidence of California’s ingenuity and foresight. Sadly, we have failed to muster the political will to build upon that.

In August, Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled strategies to address the water crisis as well as California’s inability to construct much needed water infrastructure improvements. In his August strategy, the Governor called for legislation to streamline permitting for ocean desalination, brackish groundwater treatment and stormwater capture – some of the types of projects water suppliers have been doing, or attempting to do, for decades.

It has been decades since the federal government and California formed a partnership to build the CVP and SWP, two of the nation’s largest water storage and conveyance systems, which cross 444 miles from Northern California, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, to Southern California. Without these engineering marvels, California would never have become the economic powerhouse it is today.

Climate modeling predicts a future with fewer but more intense years of significant of rain, interspersed by dry periods. Our water system, once the envy of the country, has been stretched to its limits meeting new demands and must once again adapt to this changing future. However, with this challenge comes opportunity – we can match the vision of prior generations and restore the reliability of our water system to deliver a fundamental human right – the right to water.

California needs to build projects now, with the same attitude and urgency state leaders demonstrated in quickly rebuilding freeways after the 1994 Northridge earthquake and repairing Oroville Dam after it was damaged by heavy rains in 2017. There are solutions, and they are doable. The state needs to rapidly implement an all-of-the-above approach to improving the reliability of our water supply – and that approach must include improved conveyance systems and more water storage.

Enhanced conveyance will enable us to more effectively adapt to a future with more rain and less snow, when we will need to move water rapidly during the years it’s available to store for the years when Mother Nature is less generous. There are a number of solutions to this challenge, including restoring the conveyance capacity of existing infrastructure that has been damaged, like the San Luis Canal, the California Aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal, as well as constructing new and improved conveyance systems like the Delta Conveyance Project. Each of these key conveyance projects would eliminate millions of gallons of water loss, protect thousands of acres of habitat, increase flows to communities south of the Delta during wet years and allow for additional groundwater basin storage.

Increased water storage is a critical tool to a more resilient water future for all Californians. New storage projects like Sites Reservoir and expanding existing reservoirs like San Luis Reservoir and Los Vaqueros Reservoir have been on the drawing board for too long. These storage projects, which have all been decades in development, will capture enough water from extreme rainy seasons to supply water to over 3.8 million households for a year. There is no question that these projects, if they had been constructed, would be helping to mitigate the impacts we are currently experiencing during this very difficult drought situation.

Yet, we are still bogged down in the myriad of permitting technicalities and bureaucracy instead of streamlining these projects and putting shovels in the ground to improve our water resilience.

Now is the time for the state to eliminate environmental logjams and bureaucratic red tape to start building these projects and solve its water supply crisis. Planning is not enough, nor is the timeworn advice to the public to just conserve. Conservation is not enough to solve this problem.

California has built major water supply infrastructure before. We can do it again. But it takes bold, immediate action from our political leaders. We challenge you to bring these projects to fruition, today.

Erik Hitchman, General Manager, Walnut Valley Water District 
Matt Litchfield, General Manager, Three Valleys Municipal Water District 
Darin Kasamoto, General Manager, San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District 
Dennis LaMoreaux, General Manager, Palmdale Water District 
Mauricio Guardado, General Manager, United Water Conservation District 
Federico Barajas, Executive Director, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority 
Thomas W. Birmingham, General Manager, Westlands Water District 
Tom Coleman, General Manager, Rowland Water District 
Jim Prior, General Manager, San Gabriel County Water District 
Chris White, Executive Director, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority 
Lisa Yamashita-Lopez, General Manager, Rubio Cañon Land and Water Association

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SOURCE Rowland Water District

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