Now is California’s Watershed Moment

Jim Wunderman and Michael Kelly
Jim Wunderman is president and CEO of the Bay Area Council. Michael Kelly is the executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs.

It is now safe to say that El Niño will not solve California’s drought. Though this should have been obvious from the start, there is a silver lining – it has bought the state more time to put better policies in place to create a sustainable water supply for years to come for all Californians.

We are at a true “watershed moment.” If we take decisive and effective action, our state can thrive within the limits of its current and future water resources. But if we fail to act (or act as we have in the past), the challenges our growing state will face each year will grow.

The reality is we are on the verge of a 5th year of unprecedented drought. The reality is, we’re seeing the same finger-pointing that has characterized any and all conversations about water for decades. Whether it’s north versus south or agricultural versus urban, attempts to cast blame on one group are counter productive and do nothing to move California closer to real, lasting solutions to meet our growing water challenges.

Last year wasn’t great from a drought solutions perspective. Aside from mandatory conservation efforts, which were successful in temporarily reducing residential water use, few meaningful and substantive changes occurred to the way Californian manages its water in the long-term.

Last year, the drought wreaked $2.7 billion in economic harm on our economy. Eighteen native species of fish, including winter and fall run Chinook salmon, are at risk of extinction. Farmers last year fallowed 640,000 acres of land and 17,000 agriculture jobs were lost.

Hoping for more rain next year is not the answer.

That’s why the two of us, representing broad-based coalitions of stakeholders in northern and southern California, recently signed on to the Watershed Moment Coalition.

The Watershed Moment Coalition has four fundamental principles that, if implemented, will fundamentally change the way all Californians use water, and set us up to be better prepared to deal with future periods of water scarcity:

Invest: Remove barriers that impede local and state investments in stormwater management; protections against flooding during wet years; and doing more to capture, treat and use stormwater to help California through dry years.

Leverage the market: Encourage a robust water market to drive efficient use of water and encourage voluntary water trades so farmers, industry and the environment can withstand prolonged droughts. Assemblymember Dodd, (D-Napa), has already introduced legislation (AB 1755) that will provide a foundation for a robust water market by creating a transparent water transfer information clearinghouse to share data across the state. This legislation is a precursor to a fully functional water market.

Protect low-income Californians: Provide affordable water rates for low-income Californians and deliver safe drinking water to the more than 275,000 Californians who today lack access to safe water for basic needs.

Adopt solutions for the long haul: Create incentives to move all California communities toward sustainable water systems that balance long-term water supply and demand.

It’s no longer enough to say, “Don’t waste water.” It’s now time for all Californians, including decision makers in Sacramento, to say, “Don’t waste time.”

Now is California’s watershed moment. It’s time for real, meaningful and lasting change in how California uses water. Only by working together can we guarantee enough water for California’s farms, families, industries and the environment.

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Jim Wunderman is president and CEO of the Bay Area Council. Michael Kelly is the executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs.

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