Water Crisis in 60 Seconds

stopwatchLast Friday afternoon, state Sen. Fran Pavley hosted a Natural Resources and Water Committee hearing at Santa Monica College, accompanied by state Sen. John Benoit and Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield.  The theme of the hearing was “improving water conservation and management in Southern California.”  Speakers included Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources, and representatives from MWD, LADWP, Long Beach, Irvine Ranch Water District and the Orange County Water District. TreePeople leader Andy Lipkis served as the token enviro.  They spoke to a standing-room only crowd in a hearing room that normally serves as a classroom.  No room for me.  I was banished to the children’s room next door. I’m not sure why the Senate couldn’t find a room in Fran’s district that could hold more than 60 people.

All the speakers talked about their water conservation and recycling programs in glowing terms.  By the end of the hearing, you would have thought that California’s water crisis was already solved.   I’m not saying that these agencies didn’t have some great programs, and heaven knows they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on conservation and recycling.  The amazing 70 million-gallon-per-day water recycling effort of the Orange County Water District for indirect potable reuse is internationally renowned, and I love Andy’s focus on Low Impact development to augment local water supplies.  However, you add up all the well-intentioned programs and it is like putting a Band-Aid on a severed artery. The state and the water agencies need to do a hell of a lot more to stop the bleeding than volunteer water conservation and recycling.

At the end of the hearing, the public finally got a chance to speak.  I was freed from the children’s room when Fran called my name.  I was given 60 to 90 seconds to offer suggestions on solving the state’s water crisis.  Seriously.

As you may gather, I was not too happy when I stepped to the podium. I intensely stated that the emperor has no clothes.  The solution for California’s water crisis will require sacrifices from urban residents and farmers.  It will require investments in conservation and recycling technology and infrastructure. The solution requires financial incentives and regulatory reform that requires conservation, recycling and stormwater infiltration, not to mention a complete overhaul of the current water rights system. Voluntary conservation and recycling will not cut it.

My friend and colleague Conner Everts followed my remarks by echoing the need to follow Dorothy Green’s sage advice provided in her last opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times.  Conner and I both urged the committee and audience to do everything they could to implement the recently approved (State Water Board) California water recycling policy we helped negotiate as soon as possible.

I hope the public’s combined seven minutes of input made an impact on Sens. Pavley and Benoit.  Although water agencies are taking California’s water crisis seriously, it will take the Legislature and the Governor to make the far-reaching changes necessary to protect our state’s aquatic ecosystems while insuring the public lives within its permanent, tight water budget.

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