California’s Water Crisis: Where Are We Going?



May 7, 2015
Women’s City Club

Photos are here

The video is here

Water was the topic at the May League Day. Lester Snow, Executive Director of the California Water Foundation, covered the history of water development in California, our current challenges, and ways in which we can address these challenges.

Ninety percent of California’s water is found in 40 percent of the state and, unfortunately, this water is not in the areas of greatest development. Therefore, over the years, we have had various projects to bring the water from one part of the state to another. These have included the LA Aqueduct, the Central Valley Project, and the State Water Project. This water system has fueled development. However, each project has had major consequences.

Snow emphasized that today California does not have a reliable supply of water. The numerous challenges are an increased population, aging infrastructure, groundwater overdraft, degraded ecosystems, increasing conflicts for limited water, and the uncertainty of climate change.

To confront these challenges, there is much we can do. In urban areas, we need storm water capture into recharge basins and rain barrels at individual homes. Many of our lawns can be converted to low water use plants and landscaping. Water recycling can become more widespread, including using gray water from all home uses except the toilets. Restoring some habitat and flood plains will lead to more recharging of depleted groundwater.

We are now in the midst of a historic drought. Last year, Governor Brown issued the five-year California Water Action Plan, the legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, and the California voters passed Proposition 1, a $7 million water bond. The bond contains funding to improve many aspects of water management including those mentioned above.

This year, the drought has worsened. Two thirds of the state is in extreme drought and this will grow worse over the summer months. Reservoir supplies are very low and the snow pack, which usually helps replenish the reservoirs in April, May, and June is at 5 percent of normal. The groundwater act will soon begin to be implemented but will take years to have a beneficial effect. The water bond money will also begin to be put to work, but these projects will take time in planning and construction. All will be important in the next drought.

Snow cautioned that the half life of a drought is very short. When it begins to rain again, we have a tendency to forget what we have learned during the water shortage. Hopefully, this time we will take the lessons and continue to live more responsibly and sustainably.

Following Lester Snow’s talk, Julie Parker showed us how to calculate our household’s average daily water use as well as our individual annual carbon footprint.To calculate your water use, you will need a copy of your water bill. To calculate your carbon footprint, you will need copies of your gas and electric bills, as well as information about where you have flown, how many miles you have driven, and your car’s average miles per gallon. After doing the calculations, you can begin to think about how you can reduce your water use and decrease your carbon footprint.

—Candy D’Addario