Time to stop lurching from one water emergency to the next

Lester Snow provides thoughts on pending legislation that will make conservation a permanent way of life.

By Lester Snow

This op-ed appeared in Capitol Weekly on Sept. 14, 2017.

This week the California Legislature is considering two critical water bills that will reduce water waste and improve drought planning. Senate Bill 606 (Hertzberg/Skinner) and Assembly Bill 1668 (Friedman) deserve the legislature’s full support.

On the heels of a record-breaking drought and phenomenal water savings by California residents, Governor Jerry Brown called upon the state to make conservation a permanent way of life. The Administration established a broad stakeholder group comprised of water agencies, business and community groups and environmental organizations to develop a fair, forward looking conservation framework for the state.

Now, more than a year later and after months of legislative give and take, SB 606 and AB 1668 will set California on the path to a more reliable, affordable water future. These bills have earned the support of a broad and rapidly growing coalition including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, East Bay Municipal Water District, Municipal Water District of Orange County, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Santa Clara Valley Water District and the cities of Sacramento and  Roseville as well as the Water Reuse Association of California, California Professional Firefighters, Association of Professional Landscape Designers, water technology companies, breweries and vineyards, and the Blue Business Council (which includes companies such as Toyota and Patagonia), The Nature Conservancy, and dozens of community and nonprofit organizations.

As a former Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency and Director of the California Department of Water Resources, I know how important both improved water efficiency and drought planning are to California’s future. We are facing hotter and drier conditions than what we experienced in the last five years.  The only question is how we prepare for that future.

The state’s water security MUST be a top priority. And there can be no long term security if water is being wasted through leaks, and inefficient appliances and irrigation systems that throw water into the gutters and down the streets.  California’s residents understand the importance of efficient water use and recent polls show that they want the state to do more – not less – to help them reduce water waste.  These two bills will help make that happen.

As a former General Manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, I also understand the importance to water agencies of local control over water management decisions. For too long the state has used arbitrary percentage cut backs – 20%, 30%, 40% — to achieve conservation without considering whether local water use was already efficient or not.  These clumsy and unfair requirements need to give way to better data and efficiency targets that are customized to local conditions.  SB 606 and AB 1668 will enable retail agencies to decide the most cost effective way to reduce wasteful water use putting this authority back into local hands where it belongs.

The California Legislature should vote yes on SB 606 and AB 1668 because these bills will create a fairer and more rational framework for the management of our state’s water. It is time to stop lurching from one water emergency to the next, and to permanently stop wasting water.  California’s future water security depends upon it.

Lester is former Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency and Director of the California Department of Water Resources. Previously, he managed San Diego County Water Authority.