Are there sustainable ways to fix California’s water problems?

 In Environment
Marin County reservoir

Marin County reservoir in December 2013

For many of us in drought-stricken California, this winter’s climate has felt more like an eerie endless summer. Sure, we are enjoying this ideal weather for hiking and cycling, but we have also heard the warnings that some water districts are running out of water.

Last weekend’s Pacific storms delivered by an atmospheric river known as the “Pineapple Express” offered some relief to our parched watersheds but not nearly enough to end the drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor warns:

“Even though this storm was welcome, the central Sierra still needs 3-4 more copious storms to bring this wet season close to average.”

Tilden Regional Park after a rainstorm

Tilden Regional Park after last weekend’s rainstorm

Last year was the driest year in recorded history for many areas of California. A UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist looked at old tree rings and concluded that the state had not seen a year as parched as 2013 in over 400 years, since the year 1580.

On January 17, Governor Jerry Brown declared a “drought emergency.” Yesterday, on February 14, President Obama visited the Central Valley city of Fresno to discuss federal support for drought relief.  Obama will ask Congress to set up a $1 billion “Climate Resilience Fund” in the President’s 2015 budget to be released next month.

The severity of the drought has touched off new tensions around water allocations and new legislation by the House of Representatives called a water grab by Earth Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm. Democrats in the Senate from Northern California and Oregon countered with their own emergency drought legislation.

In Politics cloud water debate, columnist Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times argues that to tackle the water crisis, we need to recognize “California has made some bad choices in the past that would not be made today.”

DeltaMeanwhile, debates over the future of major sources of California water center on the  Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta or “Delta” for short. Fed by headwaters in the High Sierra, the Delta is the West Coast’s largest estuary, and it is in a state of steep decline. The Delta supports rich ecosystems and two of the state’s most significant water delivery systems: the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project.

The proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan attempts to address conservation issues and the demands for water by Central Valley agriculture and urban water users to the south. In December KQED reported on the proposed Delta plan. Environmental journalist Chris Clarke took a look at the 35-mile water diversion tunnels proposed in the plan in: An Introduction to California’s Delta Tunnel and Salmon Controversy. Representatives for nonprofit environmental groups, including Restore the Delta and The Bay Institute, shared their perspectives on the complicated and controversial project on this KQED Forum episode.

You can weigh in on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and environmental review through April 14, 2014.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the politics, complexities, contradictions and hypocrisies around the current water crisis?

How do we work toward a solution? The resources below offer some insights and hope that there are sustainable and equitable ways to fix California’s water problems. For more ongoing coverage of the drought, you can follow KQED’s Drought Watch 2014.

More Resources:

Do you know of a leader in the nonprofit sector who is making a difference in tackling California’s water challenges? The James Irvine Foundation is accepting nominations for the 2015 Leadership Awards, which offer $125k for breakthrough solutions to issues of statewide importance.  Nominations Due: April 4, 2014.

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