Moving forward, California needs to adopt a holistic approach to water policy that takes advantage of all our options. By considering just one issue at a time and focusing on a single piece of the puzzle, as we have done for decades it creates a fragmented approach to water policy, which ends up hurting everyone.
Some voices in the state seem to put their entire focus on groundwater. One such opinion piece just ran in the Los Angeles Times. That is the kind of shortsighted thinking that has plagued our water policy for years. If we have learned one thing from this historic storm season it should be that California needs to pursue every possible approach that will allow us to take advantage of wet years in order to make the dry ones a little less painful for all. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Since the beginning of the year, enough water has spilled out of California’s rain-swollen Lake Oroville to meet the demands of roughly 14 million people for a year.” Why wouldn’t we do everything possible to capture it and prepare for the future?
We also need to recognize the critical link between surface storage and groundwater storage. We agree that our groundwater supplies need to be replenished, but that happens gradually as water enters underground aquifers from the very storage projects to which many people object. Surface storage is critical to effectively manage and enhance groundwater because of its ability to slow runoff during the kinds of atmospheric river events we’ve seen this year.
Many of these same people will also tell you that farms are irresponsible water guzzlers and need to shutter operations. In this worldview, farms are using the water simply for the sake of using it. What’s missing here is that California farms turn that water into food – specifically the healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, dairy, meat and yes, wine that Californians buy every day for their families.
Future water policy must balance the interests of urban water users, farms and the environment. Working together, we can continue to share this beautiful state as we have for centuries. However if we refuse to look at the big picture and listen to those who insist on examining only one piece of the puzzle at a time, we are likely in for tougher times than necessary.