February 5th, 2014

Enough To Go Around?


In the January Stakeholder Meeting, we switched gears and dove into an issue impacting all California water stakeholders: the current record breaking drought. We met at the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in Elk Grove. Heartened by some of the very smart steps they’re taking to help with the drought, we were also reminded that these type of large scale solutions take a lot of time and money, and require a high degree of agreement to put in place.

Surprisingly, for such a high impact issue as the drought, there was a lot of agreement among the participants on several key points:

  • This is undoubtedly already a very bad drought, and there’s no telling how long will continue.
  • Demand has only grown since the last terrible drought in 1976-77, while at the same time, regulatory constraints on water flows have grown substantially, with more agencies and sometimes conflicting regulations.
  • The agencies in charge of responding to the drought are hamstrung by complex competing needs, a fear of litigation and reluctance to set precedent, making it very hard for agencies to “do the right thing” to address the problem. At this point, agencies face the question: “Which standards do we violate?”

While short term fixes for the drought are not obvious, participants agreed that – for the state to better deal with droughts in the long term – unified action needs to be taken across a range of areas, including:

  • Organizing water policy at a statewide level to maintain a reserve of water for especially dry years.
  • Implementing measures to increase supply and reduce demand, including the usual suspects: conservation, reuse, stormwater recycling, reducing groundwater overdraft, and making sustained behavioral changes to reduce consumption.
  • Improving conveyance (though, of course, exactly how this is done is very controversial!).
  • Constructing more storage (also much easier said than done).
  • Addressing confining water rights policies.
  • Improving the decision making process for developing and administering solutions.
  • Educating California citizens on the sometimes complex issues around managing water so that we can all help drive good water policy statewide.

In most other Stakeholder Meetings, participants have gamely defended a wide range of positions on any given topic. This meeting was notable in how the participants came together behind the many shared challenges posed by the drought. Hopefully we can bring this spirit of unified action to the many other issues being tackled by the Dialogues.

Over the next few days, watch for Joe Mathew’s blog post on this same January Stakeholder Meeting, with more quotes and narrative, as well as the dialogue maps from the meeting, which will help you quickly navigate the key issues and understand the thinking behind them.