Water: Will the Legislature get this one right?

Rex Hime
President and CEO of the California Business Properties Association

The Legislature’s day-long hearing yesterday addressing California’s future – water, should be a wake up call for everyone that this issue needs to be done now but more importantly – it needs to be done correctly.

The last three years of water shortages have brought us all face to face with the consequences of continued inaction on the water front. Experts at the University of California estimate that cutting off water deliveries to agriculture have cost the state more than 35,000 jobs this year alone. The losses to California’s economy approach $1 billion, and that only counts the amount lost in the Central Valley. The losses statewide for all the businesses that depend upon an abundant, reliable and affordable source of water have been much greater.

Here in California, where most of the state’s residents depend upon water supplies imported from distant sources, communities are facing restrictions on their daily use and in some areas, rationing is being imposed. At the same time as we are being forced to use less, the cost of water is going up. The Metropolitan Water District has imposed two rate increases in the last year already and more may be on the way. In at least one community, water rates are doubling. But everyone is likely to wind up paying more for less.

The California Business Properties Association has been working on strategies to address these problems. All over California, local officials, community service associations, business and labor have all been wrestling with the same issues. But the political community in Sacramento has been inactive and unwilling to come to any conclusions.

Fortunately, the Alliance for a 21st Century Water System is working with business and community leaders throughout the state to bring our message to decision makers. And the message is that the time has come to recognize that there’s a growing consensus on what needs to be done to fix California’s broken water system. It’s a consensus that’s shared by the state’s public water agencies, the scientists and economists at the University of California, responsible environmental leaders and independent public service think tanks like the Public Policy Institute of California.

The Alliance has been created to promote a comprehensive solution that includes five key components that are essential for a comprehensive solution:

  • Restore the Delta
  • Build the peripheral canal
  • Create new storage
  • Integrate the Two Water Systems
  • Ensure an affordable water supply.

The Alliance is calling for the adoption of these five-points to ensure that any proposed legislative package is truly comprehensive.

Fifteen years ago, the last time we had a major drought, roughly 85 percent of California’s applied water supply was used for agriculture with the balance going to urban and industrial purposes. Today, agriculture accounts for only 41 percent of those supplies, urban uses for 11 percent, and the largest share, 48 percent, is devoted to a variety of environmental purposes that were not even dreamed of when our water system was built.

No wonder we are facing water shortages. No wonder we no longer have the water supplies we need to support California’s continued growth and prosperity. That’s why we need a comprehensive solution to restore reliability, repair the Delta, and meet the needs of the environment and the public in a prosperous, growing California.

Unless we can fix the water system and restore reliability to our water supplies, homebuilding and new development will be severely restricted or blocked altogether because communities will no longer be able to certify that there is a reliable water supply to support economic growth.

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