California is experiencing the most extreme drought in its history. Farms are drying up at alarming rates, putting people out of work. Fish and birds have lost habitat and some are at risk of extinction. Entire communities are without safe, clean water. Even our cities are compelled to take dramatic steps to cut their water usage. As the crisis persists – and worsens – Californians must come together to take actions that will not only relieve the worst impacts of this drought, but will also ensure that we are prepared for droughts to come.
The Water Foundation has launched the Drought Action Initiative to advance transformative change, addressing water system weaknesses and challenges that have left Californians vulnerable, especially in the face of a changing climate. Seeking to move beyond finger pointing, we call on Californians to work together to create change that will ensure reliable water supplies for all, productive farms, a thriving and resilient natural environment, and vibrant communities.
Preparing for a Very Different Future
While it is crucial that Californians respond to the current drought, we must do so in ways that prepare us for living in a climate far more variable than in the past, one as likely to be characterized by massive flooding as by prolonged drought. When it comes to water, one could say that right now California has 19th-century laws and 20th-century infrastructure to deal with 21st-century challenges. We must put in place policies and infrastructure that match our current and future needs.
We must advance solutions that carry multiple benefits, that are integrated and comprehensive… more efficient, in terms of dollars and quality of life.
When we think about changing how we use land—whether for growing the food we eat or expanding communities where we live—we must also consider water needs and availability on that land. When we invest in expanding our water supply, we must do so in ways that maintain clean water. As we prepare for future droughts, our decisions and investments should also prepare for future floods. And we must do all of this in full grasp of the fact that the needs of California’s cities, farms, and environment must be addressed as part of a whole, not as interests in conflict with one another.
Transforming our approach to how we use water won’t happen overnight, but there are some key steps we can take right now…
California's Watershed Moment
The way we respond to the current crisis can go a long way toward preparing California for a less predictable future when it comes to climate and water.
Part of the Water Foundation response is the Watershed Moment Coalition which is working to advance significant, integrated, and lasting changes in the way California manages its water. Its diverse voices from many sectors and backgrounds agree that together, we can work towards policies that guarantee enough water for farms, people and the environment.
Beyond this, Californians must, together and immediately, focus on new policies and programs that encourage greater conservation, invest in new water infrastructure as well as ways to collect the information we need to manage our water, and safeguard our natural resources. In the near term, we have to…
-Create a sustainable funding source to support development of new local water sources such as captured stormwater and recycled wastewater while also expanding opportunities for groundwater recharge
-Ensure that local agencies can raise revenues to pay for infrastructure and drive conservation.
-Encourage cities to conserve more water by requiring efficient plumbing fixtures and appliances, shifting away from grass lawns, encouraging growth in ways that use less water, and pricing water to encourage conservation.
-Encourage rapid implementation of the new sustainable groundwater management act, and ensure that approval of new groundwater pumping takes into account already depleted groundwater levels as well as the threat to existing wells and critical infrastructure from subsidence.
-Ensure that all Californians have adequate supplies of safe drinking water, providing clean sources for communities that have run out and allowing water agencies to provide “life-line rates” so that seniors and low-income residents can afford clean drinking water.
-Create a robust water market to encourage efficient use and develop better information on water rights and use, as well as stream conditions, to guide allocation decisions.
-Protect important natural resources, by restoring habitat for fish and birds and purchasing water from willing sellers to enhance stream flows in California’s rivers and restore wetlands that are essential to the Pacific Flyway.