As springtime brings renewal to our mountain watersheds, it is also the time to renew our over-regulated and politically charged California water management system, says John Kingsbury
THIS IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF HOLIDAY COMMENTARIES: This year, Maven’s Notebook will be running special commentaries from written by notable people drawing on the theme of the holiday. I hope you will enjoy this first in the series is this commentary written by John Kingsbury, Executive Director of the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association. Happy Easter!
When Chris Austin asked me to write an Easter-time article for Maven’s Notebook, I reflected on the many ways people view Easter. However and wherever Easter is observed, the universal understanding is that it is a time for renewal, for new energy, for letting go of old ways like dying leaves that no longer bring life, and for new energy to bring strength and vitality.
Since one of my passions is California water, the first thing that came to mind is that it is time to renew the health and resiliency of the Sierra Nevada forested lands. It is also time to renew our over-regulated and politically charged California water management system.
As we head into our fourth year of drought, primarily in the Western states, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points to northern California as an epicenter for extreme to exceptional drought. California and the nation are understandably focused on the immediate problems associated with diminishing water supplies.
Mountain Counties Water Resources Association takes a longer view. As stewards of one-third of the waters that flow from the mountains to the sea, through valleys and the Delta, Mountain Counties holds that investment in the watersheds of the Sierra is critical to restoring and protecting the health of the forestlands that provide the water and maintaining the infrastructure that stores, treats and carries water downstream.
For a long time, Californians assumed water is plentiful and cheap, even though most of the state is dry. Turn on the tap and safe, healthy, high-quality water flows abundantly. To get to that tap, the water may have traveled hundreds of miles down mountains in rivers and manmade canals, passed through sophisticated treatment plants, pumped up hills, and carried over hydroelectric dams.
Much of the infrastructure we have now was built in the 1950s and ’60s for a different time and a different climate. In 1960 there were around 16 million people. Now we have over 37 million people and unless something changes we are told to expect over 50 million people by 2050. With California’s finite amount of fresh water, the quality of life will change for all living things, whether it is in the Sierra, the Delta, the Bay or southern California, unless we do something about it.
Today, the combined challenges of unchecked population growth, rising sea level, climate change, extended droughts, flooding, hydropower generation, agriculture, concern for endangered species, habitat and sustainable forests to ensure reliable water supply and quality, have put California’s citizens, its economy and its environmental resources at imminent risk of disaster.
We need to expand and construct new regional surface water storage upstream and downstream, increase groundwater banking, be able to expeditiously move water around the state for buyers and sellers, optimize recycling opportunities, provide for more storm water capture and develop desalination facilities. California needs immediate funding to improve watersheds, where water and forests are interdependent. Removing dead, dying trees, and an overstocked forest, along with restoring and expanding meadows, will allow the soils to once again store water.
One of the definitions of democracy is that it is a system of government in which no logic is ever taken to its extreme. Every government agency has its own mission, and every interest group has its own agenda. Not surprising, especially with regards to water, some are more concerned with protecting their own interests than resolving the larger issues. The often repeated saying claimed to come from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nations states: “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation.” “In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at lawmaking, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion”.
As with Easter, a new way of integrated and collaborative thinking about water is blooming. At the Mountain Counties program in Auburn on Feb. 6, “The Complete Story” of the California Water Action Plan, State Department of Water Resources Deputy Director Gary Bardini said, “Everyone has to be willing to take risk, to do what we haven’t done. We are at a breakthrough, not a crossroads.”
In January, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a challenge to all Californians. He released the administration’s California Water Action Plan Implementation Report 2014-18. This is a statewide, integrated implementation plan with 10 action items. Voter approval of Proposition 1 in November 2014, Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act, provides $7.12 billion to assist in responding to those action items. The test for Mountain Counties, and the statewide water community, is to effectively carry out the responses. For his part, Gov. Brown must ensure there are no losers and no risk that one region’s water reliability gets gored to benefit another region.
We Californians have alternative choices for transportation. We have alternative choices for energy. There is no alternative choice for water. As Easter approaches on April 6 this year, it is an appropriate time to pledge to care for our water as the precious, life-sustaining resource that it is, for now and in the future. Mountain Counties Water Resources Association takes this pledge seriously.
John Kingsbury is the Executive Director of the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association. Visit them online at: mountaincountieswater.com.
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