Guest Editorial: Biden offers California a clear, clean water strategy
This editorial is from the San Jose Mercury News:
California’s continuing failure to adopt a comprehensive water strategy is exacerbating its looming drought crisis.
For nearly two decades, the state has put its focus on dam projects and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta tunnel fiasco. The primary aim is creating new ways of diverting additional water to Central Valley farmers at the expense of the fragile, over-tapped Delta, which supplies about one-third of the Bay Area’s fresh water supply.
There’s a better approach.
President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan calls for $50 billion to ease the West’s drought crisis by heavily investing in water efficiency and recycling programs. Gov. Gavin Newsom should jump at the opportunity to put the state on a long-term path toward water security that also protects precious waterways.
The governor acknowledged the seriousness of the issue last month when he announced a drought emergency in two counties — Mendocino and Sonoma — that highlight Northern California’s pressing water challenges.
Lake Mendocino is sitting at about 43% capacity, and Lake Sonoma is only about 62% full. The emergency allows state officials to take steps to preserve water quality and enforce conservation mandates in those two counties.
The governor chose not to declare a statewide emergency, but that day is likely coming in 2022. California residents and farmers shouldn’t use Newsom’s incremental approach as an excuse to delay their own conservation efforts. Every drop of water saved today is water that will be available for use in the months and years ahead.
California might be facing the same sort of drought conditions that hit the state from 2012-16, when endangered salmon were devastated because there wasn’t enough cold water stored behind Shasta and Oroville dams. In addition today, toxic algae blooms proliferate in the Delta at an increasingly worrisome rate, the Delta smelt is virtually extinct, and at least six fish species are endangered.
State officials acknowledge that the water supply outlook is grim. Despite a little precipitation in late April, the Sierra Nevada snowpack sits at about 39% of normal. The state’s largest reservoir, Lake Shasta, is at only 52% of capacity. Lake Oroville is at a 40-year low of about 40% capacity. All told, California's major reservoirs are at about 50% capacity.
Then there’s the additional threat posed by climate change. “What is different now,” Newsom said, “ … is the climate-induced impacts of these droughts.”
State Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, is pointing the governor in the right direction. She wants to start by spending $2 billion from the latest federal COVID-19 relief bill to invest in water recycling, groundwater storage and consumer rebates for water-saving investments in landscaping.
Climate change is steadily reducing the amount of water flowing from the Sierra to California cities and agricultural fields. The best long-range strategy for the state is to follow Biden’s lead and heavily invest on water efficiency and recycling efforts.
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