From high-school students to high-tech companies and local breweries, Max Gomberg of the State Water Resources Control Board has been astounded by Californians’ efforts to conserve water amid the drought. “More and more people are seeing how climate change is impacting their lives, and, in the case of droughts, taking personal initiative along with demanding more government action,” he told Water Deeply.
Gomberg works on water conservation and climate change management for the board. He is mainly focused on emergency conservation regulations, efforts to advance climate change mitigation in the water sector and legislation to reduce leaks in utility distribution systems. Gomberg is also the lead author of the water section of the AB 32 Scoping Plan update.
Water Deeply: What are you working on that you want the world to know?
Max Gomberg: I’m working on the implementation of bill AB 401 (2015), which requires the State Water Board to develop a proposal for a statewide low-income rate assistance program. I believe strongly in fulfilling the goals of California’s human right to water law – making sure that every Californian has access to safe, reliable and affordable drinking water.
Water Deeply: What surprised you in the past year about work in the water field?
Gomberg: I was astounded at the number of people and businesses that found creative and innovative ways to cut their water use during the drought. From high-school students to high-tech companies, everyone pitched in to conserve water. One great example is those breweries that managed to cut back their water use by 25 percent or more. Overall, more and more people are seeing how climate change is impacting their lives, and, in the case of droughts, taking personal initiative along with demanding more government action.
Water Deeply: Who/what do you find most inspiring in your field?
Gomberg: I find the growing leadership by women and people of color in the water industry very inspiring. In an industry that has long been dominated by white men, and slow to embrace change, breaking the mold is difficult. I work with four female board members – Felicia Marcus, Frances Spivy-Weber, Tam Doduc and Dorene D’Adamo – whose vision and leadership inspires me on a daily basis.
They are joined by other state leaders, such as Catherine Sandoval at the Public Utilities Commission, Martha Guzman-Aceves in the Governor’s office, and Lois Wolk and Fran Pavley in the State Senate, who have worked tirelessly to integrate equity and environmental stewardship into water management.
There are also emergent leaders in the industry itself, like Joone Lopez of Moulton Niguel Water District, who have spearheaded a water data collaborative, and many strong advocates working for nongovernmental organizations, such as Susana De Anda at the Community Water Center – she was named a “Champion of Change” for climate equity by the White House for her work advocating for clean, safe, and affordable drinking water.
Water Deeply: What are the most important things California should be doing right now to create a sustainable water future?
Gomberg: Creating a sustainable water future depends on many inter-related actions in environmental protection, demand management and local supply development; and all of these actions require funding and public support. Building that public support requires the state and local agencies to improve our communications about the challenges climate change and population growth present for water management, and to have candid conversations about the long-term funding needs and lifestyle and business decisions necessary for maintaining water supply reliability while protecting our natural environment.
Water Deeply: Looking out 10 years from now, what do you hope California will have accomplished on water issues?
Gomberg: There’s so much to be done. Here are the 10 top items on my wish list:
- Clean, safe, reliable and affordable water for all Californians.
- A more sustainable funding source for maintaining drinking water quality, affordability and accessibility.
- A repeal of Proposition 218 (which constrains equitable rate increases), along with new requirements for transparency and equity in rate setting.
- No more critically overdrafted groundwater basins through reductions in pumping and additional recharge.
- A large-scale expansion of recycled water and stormwater use.
- Significant investments in climate change adaptation, such as protecting coastal infrastructure from sea-level rise and restoration of upper watershed ecosystems.
- Rebounds in fish populations and native plant species through environmental flows and habitat restoration.
- New incentives and regulations for agricultural sector investments based on long-term economic viability rather than short-term profit margins.
- The elimination of irrigated turf in ornamental landscapes.
- Major reductions in leaks due to enhanced investments, operations changes and use of technology for leak detection, repair and infrastructure replacement.