Why So Little on Water?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

California is begging for more action, and imaginative investment in water.

Meanwhile the legislature took action at the end of its session on water, by passing… a call for Gov. Brown to call a special legislative session on the subject.

It was profoundly weird to see the end of the legislative session so focused on how much gas we might all use in 2050, when so much needs to be done to address today’s poverty and water shortage.

Also striking was all the attention to finding ways to raise fees and taxes to pay for roads and MediCal—and the lack of attention to the question of how to pay for the major redesign of state water infrastructure we need.

That’s particularly striking when you see polling, including a poll released earlier this summer by the California Water Foundation, showing that Californians are all but begging to pay more to do big, ambitious things on water.

Yes, the state passed a modest water bond in 2014, but what’s needed is historic investment on regional water systems, so that our cities and counties capture more of the water that falls on them, replenish groundwater, and become water-secure. In Los Angeles, stormwater capture and water recycling are starting to rival mom, and surpass apple pie (which has a lot of calories), in popularity. Why no action?

Perhaps a special session will do the trick, though the ongoing special sessions on transportation and health haven’t produced much. Or perhaps the failure to get a gas mandate in SB 350, clearly driven by a desire of California leaders to look good at the upcoming Paris climate change conference, will open the door to action on this most pressing subject.

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