Tuesday, October 13, 2009

California Closing in on Water Management Solution?

There's potentially good news percolating up out of the morass that is California's legislative process. The governor's threat to veto up to 700 bills submitted by the legislature finally spurred some action from representatives, who are now possibly closing in on an agreement for managing California's scarce water resources. Of course it's not yet a done deal and as anyone with knowledge of the state's legislative process can tell you, there's still plenty that can go wrong. As reported in the Fresno Bee:
… Even if an agreement is reached, they’d still have to sell it to rank-and-file lawmakers, who will be lobbied hard by regional water districts and environmentalists — all of whom have different needs.

Outstanding issues appear to include policy proposals favored by Democrats to mandate conservation, set new rules for groundwater monitoring and crack down on illegal diversions of water.

Environmentalists, backed by Democrats, say the plans will “break the cycle of conflict and environmental damage that have plagued California’s water management system for decades,” according to a letter sent to leaders by a key coalition of environmentalists.

But Republicans, farm groups and some industrial water users oppose the plans as written, saying they would create a “vast new government bureaucracy.”

Unsurprisingly, there are some sticking points mentioned, though they seem to be over areas that (somewhat unusually for the CA legislature) are backed by common sense. For example, Democrats want to mandate conservation. Seeing as California is an arid state that gets hit periodically by drought and is facing an uncertain water future thanks to climate change, how is this controversial? Particularly in light of the successes individual cities like Long Beach have recently had, conserving 1.6 billion gallons of water this year, compared to last.

They also favor regulating groundwater use at the state level. Considering that:
California is the only state that does not regulate or even monitor groundwater use. Those with a well can pump all they they want, whenever they want, without regard for how it affects a neighbor -- even if the neighbor happens to be an entire city that depends on groundwater.
It would seem like managing underground aquifers, which are just as critical to California's future as its extensive system of surface reservoirs, also falls into the realm of common sense.

Last of all, they want to crack down on illegal diversion of water. Somebody please explain to me how that's controversial, because I would have thought that one a no-brainer.

Let's face it, if California is to remain an economic powerhouse, it needs to get smarter about water management. With population growth projected at around 20 million between now and 2050, water scarcity will only grow as a day to day issue, for residents and businesses alike. Unless we get a lot smarter, a lot faster.

The legislature is on the right track at the moment. Let's hope they're able to pull it off in a way that benefits all of us, without losing sight of the critical nature of the issue.

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