Opinion Columns & Blogs

California water storage bond a drop in a leaky bucket

Adam Gray
Adam Gray Merced Sun-Star

Pray for rain!

With news of an enormous El Niño year flowing in, some believe their prayers might have been answered. But memory quickly turns to the devastating flooding and mudslides so synonymous when these subtropical storms arrive in California.

In the past, such deluges were relatively uncommon. Now, many scientists are predicting that prolonged periods of drought followed by torrential downpours will be par for the course. Climate change will bring greater weather extremes on both sides of the precipitation spectrum. Add warmer winters that melt vital mountain snowpack early in the season, and the period for California to collect and store water becomes increasingly short.

So while many of our reservoirs sit nearly empty today, we will need to fill them to the very brim if we are to avoid reliving this devastating drought scenario 10 years from now. And even filling our reservoirs to capacity is unlikely to provide enough water to weather such extremes.

When the scale of the problem is this big, stopgap alternatives, such as increasing conservation, are merely a drop in a leaky bucket.

As a result of the drought, the state has lost almost $5 billion in economic productivity and nearly 40,000 jobs just in the last two years – predominantly in California’s impoverished Central Valley. To put that in perspective, after almost no state investments for half a century, California’s entire Proposition 1 water bonds amounted to just $7.5 billion – and just $2.7 billion of that was earmarked for storage. We simply cannot afford not to plan ahead.

So I am calling on my colleagues in the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to find the political will to make a real investment in California’s water supply.

This week, I will amend my AB 1242 to include directing the Department of Water Resources to increase our statewide water storage capacity 25 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2050. We can use California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to help finance this, since the turbulence of California’s water supply can be directly attributed to the effects of climate change – the very problem the fund was created to address.

This is an issue on which environmentalists and farmers can find common ground. More storage means more water for crops and groundwater recharge. It means safe and reliable drinking water in disadvantaged cities and towns. And it means greater flexibility to protect habitat and endangered species.

So instead of waiting for our prayers for rain to be answered, let’s start putting shovels in the ground and take our water future in our own hands.

Adam Gray represents the 21st District, composed of Merced and a portion of Stanislaus counties, in the California Assembly.