Water is essential to the quality of life of all Californians. First, and most obviously, California’s people and communities can’t live without it. Secondly, the state’s economy, including its thriving agricultural industry, is dependent on abundant, reliable, clean water. And finally, California’s environmental heritage and natural beauty are inextricably linked to its ocean, bays, rivers, streams, and lakes.
Unfortunately, California’s water system is in crisis. According to experts, for the first time in California’s history, the state’s water supply, storage and delivery systems may not be able to meet the needs of the growing population. The complex problem is caused by a number of factors, including an aging infrastructure (built 50 years ago for a population a third of its current size), climate change, drought, and population growth. The major challenges lie in the hub of the state’s water system, the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta, which is responsible for channeling water supplies to more than 25 million Californians. One of the most prominent environmental problems involve impacts of the huge pumps at the south end of the delta; these are the greatest cause of declining fish populations, and the need to use the delta as a water conduit instead of allowing its natural brackish meander is the leading cause of the delta’s environmental decline.
The Delta consists of thousands of miles of levees; in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the failure of levees and flooding of much of the Gulf Coast, concern has grown about the security of the levees and much of our state’s water supply. In April 2009, the Delta was declared the nation's most endangered waterway system by the environmental group American Rivers, due to water shortages caused by the Delta's environmental problems, imperiled fish populations and aging levees.
Environmentalists believe much of the answer to the state’s water woes lies in conservation, which is the quickest and cheapest way to meet growing water needs. According to Governor Schwarzenegger’s Delta Task Force, water efficiency programs would free up 3.1 million acre-feet of water annually, compared to new dams which, in addition to their high cost and environmental impacts, would produce only up to 1 million acre-feet. The task force further stated: “The goals of conservation, efficiency, and sustainable use must drive California water policies.” The solutions to this crisis are hotly debated but what is clear is what’s at stake: the future of California’s population, economy and environment.
Examples of actions that help solve the state’s water crisis: In 2008 Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB xx 1 (Perata, Steinberg and Machado), which allocates $807 million in existing water bond funds for Integrated Regional Water Management, storm water management, Delta ecosystem improvements, ands several other key programs necessary for near-term improvements in the state’s water systems.
Examples of actions that exacerbate the state’s water crisis: Groundwater is a critical source of fresh water for irrigation, drinking water, and multiple other commercial and industrial purposes. Yet unlike surface water, the state has almost no jurisdiction over the use of groundwater. In 2005 and again in 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation (SB 820 and SB 1640) authored by environmental champion Senator Sheila Kuehl which would have required increased reporting on surface water and groundwater uses.