Plenty of water waiting to be used
Who says there isn’t enough water to meet all the needs in California? Why are efforts continually made to buy-trade-swap water from one use for another? Why doesn’t someone step up and say the water is there waiting to be used? I will.
More than 20 million acre-feet of water that is not used by farms, cities or for dedicated environmental purposes currently flows to the Pacific Ocean in an average year. That water is identified on page 3-12 of The California Water Plan Update, Bulletin 160-98, Volume 1–the state’s “how-to” guide on understanding California water.
Some of this water may not be available because it flows down the mountain and across the beach to the ocean. Yet, a portion of this unused water – 10 million acre-feet – flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It is a percentage of this water that must be put to a wiser and more beneficial use while leaving plenty in the Delta for quality standards. But California must have a place to store this unused water until needed.
At no time in California’s water history has the need for more water storage been greater than following the recent rejection by the Imperial Irrigation District’s board of directors to the proposed transfer of water to coastal regions. In today’s climate, when water is taken from one area and given to another, someone almost always loses. The district’s directors feared that the loss would be too great for local residents.
Those same directors are continuing to look for a way to be a part of the solution to the growing needs of an exploding population. But that solution must provide necessary safeguards for their community.
That willingness to be a part of the solution has been evident when individual water districts and farmers stepped forward to curtail their operations for a short period of time to provide needed water elsewhere. Farmers in the Sacramento Valley voluntarily shifted their crop plans to allow water to flow to a newly established state water bank during the drought years early in the last decade. These farmers are again contemplating the transfer of water to Southern California as part of a one-year agreement. Other farmers over the years have altered their farm plantings to provide water for others.
But these transfers always come with short-term contracts and guarantees that local communities will not be devastated. If these assurances can be met, then water will continue to be available for short-term transfers as Southern California looks to agriculture for needed water supplies even in average rainfall years.
By continually turning to agriculture in search of a permanent fix to a growing population, our state runs the risk of creating a barren landscape where fruit and vegetables once flourished, and nobody wants that. California can no longer look to a shifting allocation of its existing water supplies to solve the problems it faces now or in the future. Ag to urban water transfers are, at best, a stopgap measure of short-term duration that are used to solve today’s problems; but what about tomorrow? That is why efforts must be taken today to utilize a portion of that water that is currently flowing into the Pacific Ocean and to develop the storage facilities that are needed to make that water available to all of California.
Mike Wade is the executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition in Sacrament. For more information, contact Mike Henry, director of Media Relations, at 916-441-7723.
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