For May 2015, the media broadly announced that water use was down 29% across California and 48% for Valley Center Municipal Water District. This is good news right? It is wonderful that Californians, with a little help from an unusual amount of rain in May, are responding to the call to reduce water use during this fourth year of drought. Do not forget, however, that on the other side of these water conservation levels are the hard realities of economic loss, environmental damage, social disruption and personal hardship.
Also keep in mind that this situation also means that our political leaders and regulatory bodies have failed to meet the critical responsibility to adequately and reliably provide for the water needs of California’s citizens, environment and economy.
Harsh? Yes, but sadly accurate. The State Water Project was completed in 1973. Though California’s population has doubled since then, the Project has remained static in terms of storage capacity. As for annual water delivery, the SWP has never met its full contractual obligations and continues to decline steadily in delivery quantity and reliability. Decade after decade, California’s water leaders have advocated for more storage and system improvements to restore delivery capacity and reliability. Unfortunately, the combination of north/ south politics and the environmental community’s mantra of “we don’t need to build anymore water projects, all we need to do is conserve,” was reason enough for the generations of politicians to kick the “water” can down the road.
Today, when you have state and federal water managers having to decide who gets the remaining water in storage, the folks or the fish, indeed, the “can” may have been kicked to the end of the road. It is also searing irony that it is now because of the environmental community’s lock-step intransigent opposition to water development that, indeed, it is the very environment that now suffers greatly.
So what is going on in Sacramento to address the situation? Concentrated, intense legislative and regulatory efforts to clear the way, and speeding up the implementation of much needed water projects, you might surmise. Hardly. To the contrary, majority party legislators and state regulators are working overtime to use this drought as a reason to gain more control over all aspects of water – how much it should cost, how many square feet of lawn or landscaping you should have, how much should you use to shower and brush your teeth. To my point, AB 311 (Gallagher – R, Nicolaus) proposed to fast-track the CEQA evaluation for surface water reservoir development; a positive to help solve the problem. AB 311’s quick and enthusiastic legislative death showed the real intent and interests of our state’s political leadership.
A retail water manager’s wish: That there be was as much interest and energy being invested by our state’s leadership in positive steps to secure the reliability of our state’s water supply as there is by environmental and regulatory community in using the current crisis to increase top-down government control over water supply and its uses.
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Gary Arant is general manager of the Valley Center Municipal Water District.