California Water Policy: Driest Year in State History Leads to Debate

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The year 2013 marked the driest year recorded in California history. December is typically a wet month in the state, but the Summer-like Winter in 2013 was both a blessing and a curse. A serious debate on the state’s water future is imperative.

The Independent Voter Project organized and hosted a summit on California water policy, which included a panel that consisted of several experts and legislators in the state’s struggle for sufficient water supply. The event can be viewed below:

The panel included the following members:

  • Anthony Cannella, California State Senator – 12th District
  • Adam Gray, California Assembly Member – 21st District
  • Mario Santoyo, Executive Director of California Latino Water Coalition
  • Ara Azhderian, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority
  • Mike Wade, Executive Director of California Farm Water Coalition
  • Ron Jacobsma, Eastside Water District

Senator Cannella gave opening remarks and noted that California’s water infrastructure was built to accommodate a population of 10 million people. The state is now approaching a population of 40 million. He also stated that water isn’t just about California itself, it’s also about every state and country that gets food from California agriculture.

The 2014 election cycle will present a state water bond measure of $11.14 billion on the ballot for water supply and infrastructure. The details may change as election day approaches.

The panel weighed in on the water bond and what can be done to solve years of drought. Mike Wade explained that if a bond is put in place where public funds are used, that there needs to be more accountability with how it’s used. Ron Jacobsma noted that ecosystems and wildlife need to be considered when making a decision on water infrastructure and sustainability.

Assemblymember Adam Gray, who like Cannella represents key parts of the Central Valley, explained that the water supply situation is nuanced:

“Some type of serious investment, not just in infrastructure for conveyance and storage, but also conservation. A combination of all of the above is necessary. Certainly the bond printed today has a lot of improvements needed to be made in order to get support on the ballot, I think we all want to see that happen.”

Mario Santoyo pointed out that the bond is not just about water, but it’s also about the creation of jobs. The bond estimates $11 billion from the state to build infrastructure, but Santoyo states the construction would roughly cost another $30 billion:

“The way you look at it from an economic perspective is that 40 billion dollars-worth of jobs could be generated with the passage of the bond.”

Ara Azhderian took into account that the bond is going to be placed on the ballot during a gubernatorial election year, which may affect whether or not the bond is passed:

“Throw in the complication a gubernatorial election, the dynamics of what the size of the bond should be, and under normal circumstances in 2014, I would say not likely…but the pressure will be felt up and down the state to do something in the face of something that is largely out of our control.

How do you think California should approach its water policy?

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  1. jmdenn Restoring our topsoil is the best way to buffer through droughts for agriculture, as the earth itself can hold more liquid the deeper the topsoil. Think of topsoil as a sponge, the bigger the sponge the more water it can hold. Then agriculture isn't competing as much with consumers for water.
  2. DougGoodman One potential use for drones I've heard mentioned is cloud seeding. Could certainly help is mother nature continues to withhold rain / snow to the Sierra Nevada.
  3. bobconner Water is becoming a serious challenge throughout the entire western US and no political effort is going to produce more rain/snow, so whatever we do to alleviate the issue must include very strict conservation laws. Here in Henderson and Las Vegas, new homes must include xeriscape landscape indigenous to the Mojave desert or some other form of water-conserving landscape such as rock.  Homeowners with landscapes which use large amounts of water (such as grass, flowers, etc) are receiving substantial incentives from the city governments to replace their landscapes with xeriscapes which can survive on the region's natural climate without additional water. Take a look at this article about http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/water-environment/another-dry-winter-could-push-lake-mead-lower.  It has dropped 90 feet in level since 2000 with almost http://news.cnet.com/2300-11386_3-10016782-5.html.  A bit unsettling.
  4. Alex_G Desalinization technology is a promising but expensive technology. I think any water solution will need to invest there.
  5. DDM3 I suspect that fresh water supply will become an economically crippling issue in the next 4-10 years for California. This issue is massive and potentially ruinous for the state's economy. There is absolutely no substitute or replacement for fresh water. When it runs out in a given locale, that's it. The game is over. There are one or more companies who are quietly scouring the U.S. Southwest (including California, I think) and buying fresh water rights. Those people fully understand the economic implications. They will be able to charge whatever they want for water when the time comes. That moment in time isn't far off. As I understand it, their stock prices are doing very well. People who are aware of this issue are positioning themselves to cash in and they have been engaged in that positioning exercise for at least 5 years. There are a couple of things that could be at least considered to ameliorate the situation. One is a law imposing a requirement that developers insure their developments have sufficient water to meet anticipated demand from their new development. This comes to mind because, if memory serves, Utah has a similar law and that tends to keep demand roughly in line with supply in a very arid state. I presume that developers in Utah rely either on developing means to harvest snow melt and/or ground water. The obvious problem with ground water is that if you draw from it too fast, the water table can drop and may thus become a non-viable long-term source of fresh water. The inland empire is based entirely on a large underground aquifer that maintains the Palm Springs area. Apparently that aquifer is self-sustaining so far, but projections are that there will be less snowfall in the mountains surrounding Palm Springs and that could endanger the aquifer, which is fed by snow melt from these mountains. Without it underground aquifer, I suspect the whole inland empire area would be dust bunnies and rattlesnakes instead of golf courses, nice restaurants and resorts. The other approach is to consider what the Reform Party of California has proposed regarding federal tax and spending parity (http://reformpartyca.org/press-release-rpca-asks-for-increased-federal-spending-in-california/). The parity idea is simple. It proposes that California receive back $1 from the federal government for every $1 it sends to Washington in taxes. At present, California probably receives back from Washington about about $0.75 to $0.80 for each dollar it sends to Washington. Some other states receive back much more than $1 for every $1 they send to Washington, so there is no reason that parity cannot be achieved. Assuming the data they rely on is correct (they acknowledge best they can do is estimate) and there is appreciable money to be had from attaining parity, then some of those tens of billions of dollars could be directed toward building water infrastructure, including desalination infrastructure and possibly the energy sources needed to drive desalination. The obvious problem with that proposal is that is it pure politics and it flies directly in the face of how both the democratic and republican parties do politics both in California and at the national level. Meaningful movement for that approach will require extensive support from outside the two-party system. My guess is that we are approaching the time when the water situation will become so desperate that even Reform Party's parity proposal will become palatable to most average Californians while the two parties will continue to resist it for their own self-serving ends. Time will tell on whether parity gains traction with the public or not. I suggest some support for desalination for obvious reasons. We are not going to run out of sea water. Now that the lawsuits have quieted down the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere is being built near Oceanside. It is expensive to desalinate sea water. Despite that, water prices in the San Diego area are so high now that by the time the desalination plant comes on line, that water won't be much more expensive than water from other sources.
5 comments
jmdenn
jmdenn

Restoring our topsoil is the best way to buffer through droughts for agriculture, as the earth itself can hold more liquid the deeper the topsoil. Think of topsoil as a sponge, the bigger the sponge the more water it can hold. Then agriculture isn't competing as much with consumers for water. 

DougGoodman
DougGoodman

One potential use for drones I've heard mentioned is cloud seeding. Could certainly help is mother nature continues to withhold rain / snow to the Sierra Nevada. 

bobconner
bobconner

Water is becoming a serious challenge throughout the entire western US and no political effort is going to produce more rain/snow, so whatever we do to alleviate the issue must include very strict conservation laws.

Here in Henderson and Las Vegas, new homes must include xeriscape landscape indigenous to the Mojave desert or some other form of water-conserving landscape such as rock.  Homeowners with landscapes which use large amounts of water (such as grass, flowers, etc) are receiving substantial incentives from the city governments to replace their landscapes with xeriscapes which can survive on the region's natural climate without additional water.

Take a look at this article about Lake Mead.  It has dropped 90 feet in level since 2000 with almost 30% of it's volume now gone.  A bit unsettling.


Alex_G
Alex_G moderator

Desalinization technology is a promising but expensive technology. I think any water solution will need to invest there.

RPG - the Reform Party Guy
RPG - the Reform Party Guy

I suspect that fresh water supply will become an economically crippling issue in the next 4-10 years for California. This issue is massive and potentially ruinous for the state's economy. There is absolutely no substitute or replacement for fresh water. When it runs out in a given locale, that's it. The game is over. There are one or more companies who are quietly scouring the U.S. Southwest (including California, I think) and buying fresh water rights. Those people fully understand the economic implications. They will be able to charge whatever they want for water when the time comes. That moment in time isn't far off. As I understand it, their stock prices are doing very well. People who are aware of this issue are positioning themselves to cash in and they have been engaged in that positioning exercise for at least 5 years.

There are a couple of things that could be at least considered to ameliorate the situation. One is a law imposing a requirement that developers insure their developments have sufficient water to meet anticipated demand from their new development. This comes to mind because, if memory serves, Utah has a similar law and that tends to keep demand roughly in line with supply in a very arid state. I presume that developers in Utah rely either on developing means to harvest snow melt and/or ground water. The obvious problem with ground water is that if you draw from it too fast, the water table can drop and may thus become a non-viable long-term source of fresh water. The inland empire is based entirely on a large underground aquifer that maintains the Palm Springs area. Apparently that aquifer is self-sustaining so far, but projections are that there will be less snowfall in the mountains surrounding Palm Springs and that could endanger the aquifer, which is fed by snow melt from these mountains. Without it underground aquifer, I suspect the whole inland empire area would be dust bunnies and rattlesnakes instead of golf courses, nice restaurants and resorts.

The other approach is to consider what the Reform Party of California has proposed regarding federal tax and spending parity (http://reformpartyca.org/press-release-rpca-asks-for-increased-federal-spending-in-california/). The parity idea is simple. It proposes that California receive back $1 from the federal government for every $1 it sends to Washington in taxes. At present, California probably receives back from Washington about about $0.75 to $0.80 for each dollar it sends to Washington. Some other states receive back much more than $1 for every $1 they send to Washington, so there is no reason that parity cannot be achieved. Assuming the data they rely on is correct (they acknowledge best they can do is estimate) and there is appreciable money to be had from attaining parity, then some of those tens of billions of dollars could be directed toward building water infrastructure, including desalination infrastructure and possibly the energy sources needed to drive desalination. The obvious problem with that proposal is that is it pure politics and it flies directly in the face of how both the democratic and republican parties do politics both in California and at the national level. Meaningful movement for that approach will require extensive support from outside the two-party system. My guess is that we are approaching the time when the water situation will become so desperate that even Reform Party's parity proposal will become palatable to most average Californians while the two parties will continue to resist it for their own self-serving ends. Time will tell on whether parity gains traction with the public or not.

I suggest some support for desalination for obvious reasons. We are not going to run out of sea water. Now that the lawsuits have quieted down the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere is being built near Oceanside. It is expensive to desalinate sea water. Despite that, water prices in the San Diego area are so high now that by the time the desalination plant comes on line, that water won't be much more expensive than water from other sources.