California needs water systems that are reliable even in dry years. The threat of another drought provides a clear reminder that the state remains far from that goal, however. Residents will need to boost conservation efforts, to make more efficient use of existing supplies.
But legislators also need to safeguard the state’s primary water system and boost water storage capacity.
The state Department of Water Resources last week announced severely limited projected water deliveries from the State Water Project for 2014. The initial forecast says that water providers, including the giant Metropolitan Water District and the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, can expect to receive just 5 percent of the 4.17 million acre-feet of water they sought for next year. An acre-foot is about enough water to supply two families for a year.
The amount of water available could increase if winter storms provide more precipitation, of course. The state forecast a 5 percent allocation in 2010, as well, but eventually boosted deliveries to 50 percent of the water that agencies wanted. But the first 10 months of this year have been the driest since 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center. And water levels in many of the state’s big reservoirs remain below historical averages.
But California needs a more dependable approach to water than hoping for wet weather. State and regional water officials last month urged Californians to curb their water use, to help ease the strain on water supplies. Boosting conservation is one of the most effective ways for average Californians to help avoid water shortages, and many residents have already cut the amount of water they use.
Legislators, however, also need to act to protect the state against droughts. That effort should start by ensuring the reliability of water exports from Northern California. Water that flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta serves two-thirds of the state’s population and irrigates millions of acres of farmland.
But the delta’s environmental ills have already prompted periodic cutbacks in water exports. And the estuary is ringed with deteriorating levees that could collapse in an earthquake. The state’s most promising approach is to channel water exports around the troubled delta, but whatever solution emerges, the state cannot afford to lose a supply of water that much of California depends upon.
The state also needs to increase water storage capacity. Long-range forecasts predict the state could increasingly get more winter rain and less snow, requiring California to catch and store more winter runoff to get through the hot summer months.
Paying for such improvements will also require legislators to craft a more realistic water bond, instead of the bloated $11.1 billion measure now on the 2014 ballot. Legislators should strip away the pork projects, focus the spending on the state’s crucial water needs and keep the cost as low as possible.
Making sure the state has enough water requires dedicated effort, careful planning and political will. If that challenge seems too daunting, consider the alternative: a thirsty state increasingly hobbled by water shortages.