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California Must Prepare Now for a Drier Future

The state should tackle its water problems the same way it has worked to curb climate change and that includes passing a package of bills to reduce water waste and improve efficiency, writes Ceres’ Kirsten James.

Written by Kirsten James Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
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A sign advertising the use of recycled water in front of Ducky's Car Wash, San Mateo, California.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

For most of California’s history, water supply problems were solved simply by building new dams or ditches to move water from one place to another. Over time, the limitations of that approach have become increasingly clear. Now, after a five-year drought of historic proportions, our rivers and groundwater are overtapped, and a warmer climate demands that we fundamentally rethink our relationship to this resource. Fortunately, we can meet our water needs if we use it wisely.

Californians know how to craft policies and practices to work within nature’s limits, and understand that sustainable communities are more livable and prosperous. For example, the important steps that state legislators have taken to curb climate change have helped clean up our air and have spurred innovation and job growth and saved money. This integrated approach to climate action is precisely what’s required to protect our water supply.

In California, we have changed our energy use to mitigate the harms associated with climate change by ramping up production of clean and renewable electricity sources while pursuing smart efficiency upgrades. In other words, we are working on both supply and demand: creating alternatives to fossil fuels with solar and wind projects, putting a price on carbon and incentivizing efficiency from home appliances all the way up to the massive systems that heat and cool hotels, universities and warehouses.

We need the same integrated approach to water. California should lead the nation on responsible and resilient water use, just as it is leading on climate and clean energy. After all, water and climate are just two sides of the same coin. As the planet heats up, we can expect more extreme weather that includes longer and hotter droughts, and more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow. To avoid future shortages, we have to stretch our supplies further.

The legislature is currently considering a package of bills that would reduce water waste, increase efficiency and improve drought planning for vulnerable communities. These bills, which include Assembly Bill 1668 and Senate Bill 606, would help us prepare for the future we know is on the horizon.

Having just emerged from a record drought, we know how devastating a few dry years can be in a state that is unprepared to make the best use of limited water supplies. During the drought, residents across the state doubled down on conservation, slashing their water use by a quarter.

But we don’t want a repeat of the emergency drought mandate. What California needs is to adopt the same two-pronged approach to water it has taken on energy: reduce demand and develop more sustainable supplies. That means embracing smart local solutions like stormwater capture and recycled water, while making sure all water, regardless of the source, is used efficiently.

Water efficiency is the fastest and most cost-effective way to ensure a reliable and affordable supply into the future. That is good news for businesses, since it creates more certainty and a level playing field.

That is why Ceres is joining so many water advocates in urging the state legislature to adopt policies that will make conservation and efficiency a way of life in California.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.

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