Governor Schwarzenegger and U.S. Senator Feinstein wrote an op-ed in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times that pitches a $9 billion water bond as the best way to “solve” California’s water crisis. If this sounds familiar, that’s only because every day is Groundhog Day for California’s water supply. We heard similar pitches for propositions 13, 40, 50, 84 and 1E. All those initiatives accomplished some great things, but they did NOT solve our water crisis.
As I’ve said before, California is not in a seasonal drought. We are in a time of permanent water scarcity due to climate change and justifiably reduced supplies from the Delta, Eastern Sierras and the Colorado. Another water bond will not get us out of the crisis. Just like the legislators wrangling with the state budget, we’ve overdrawn the account and we’re living on credit. And we can’t rely on the same old sources of revenue to balance the budget — or in this case, to balance the water budget.
California needs a fundamental and far-reaching change in how we view water. People pay a fortune for bottled water, yet we still treat water as an unlimited, cheap resource. For California to adjust to the increasing water scarcity paradigm, everyone is going to have to make sacrifices. To that end, Schwarzenegger and Feinstein have called for a comprehensive, statewide water plan, a need that is decades overdue. These two powerful leaders should immediately create a high-level, blue-ribbon task force to create the plan in a year’s time. The task force should be composed of no more than nine people. My recommendations: Lester Snow, the director of the state’s Department of Water Resources; Tam Doduc, State Water Board chair; state Speaker Karen Bass, incoming Senate Pro-tem Darrell Steinberg, Sen. Feinstein, and a few heavy hitters from outside government (one enviro, one Ag rep, and wildcards, like Leon Panetta, who know how to get things done).
They must craft a plan for California’s sustainable water future. Everything must be on the table, including statewide universal water metering, mandatory water conservation and water recycling targets for all users, including agriculture. It must seek mandatory stormwater recharge, Low Impact Development requirements and aggressive groundwater aquifer cleanup that includes wellhead treatment. There should be native and xeriscape landscaping requirements, conservation mandates in the uniform plumbing code as well as land-use limits and crop-planting restrictions driven by water supply. The plan must reform arcane water rights law, which dictates more water rights than there is water. Finally it must demand more strategic use of bond dollars to implement a comprehensive water plan, instead of bankrolling hodgepodge projects supported by the most powerful elected officials and special interests.
There is no more important priority for California than immediately creating and implementing a sustainable water plan. Approving another bond measure for water supply projects before fundamental statewide changes in water use occurs is like continuing to lend money to someone with a gambling problem. It doesn’t make sense. Gov. Schwarzenegger and Sen. Feinstein have the clout to make far reaching changes in how Californians use water. Until then, don’t count on the public to vote for a water bond band-aid to cure the state’s rapidly deteriorating condition.