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

by Michael Higham, published

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.

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