If we had a crystal ball that showed our water future, it would be cloudy at best. In fact, downright unpredictable.

Californians were lulled into a sense of relief as last year’s massive rainfall literally soaked our region. Flooded streets, sinkholes and monster storms dominated news coverage. However, we’re now potentially facing another incredibly dry year with Southern California experiencing just this week the only significant storm since last February. This Fall was a scorcher — the hottest in 122 years of record keeping — and sadly coupled with the largest wildfire in Southern California history in December. Snow surveys completed just this week show our snow pack levels to be at a scant 3 percent of normal. But that could all change.

Our new climate reality is one of volatile swings, alternating from drought conditions in one year to flooded basins the following. For our state’s water managers, it’s a bit like riding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. We zig and then we zag through the extreme weather cycles.

We cannot control when the dry season inevitably overstays its welcome but we can choose to better prepare ourselves.

What can we all do?

First, continue conservation.

While the state has lifted mandatory rationing and mandates, don’t take your foot off the pedal in your house and in the garden. Reduce your indoor use and turn off those sprinklers. Californians made record gains in water conservation, significantly reducing consumption during the past three years. That approach must continue.

Second, we need to improve our statewide infrastructure to help us better weather (no pun intended) the wild climate cycles and capture more water when available.

The most comprehensive investment under consideration is Gov. Jerry Brown’s California WaterFix project, which would modernize and upgrade a vital section of the state’s 100-year-old infrastructure and delivery system that transports more than 60 percent of California’s water. WaterFix not only ensures a clean, reliable and affordable water supply for our state, it also will allow us to capture more water during storms and conserve. This past winter nearly 158 billion gallons of water were lost — enough water to supply the cities of Long Beach, Riverside, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Oxnard, San Bernardino and San Diego combined for one year. Bottom line, California WaterFix is mission critical.

Our organization has worked hand in hand with Gov. Brown’s administration to advance education on WaterFix — one of the most important projects for his legacy — and we’ll continue to roll up our sleeves during his final year in office.

In 2019, we’ll welcome a new governor to the Golden State. Our organization — which represents a unique, broad and powerful coalition of labor, business, local government, water and agricultural organizations — is committed to making sure the gubernatorial candidates vying for this important office understand the critical link between WaterFix and the health of Southern California’s economy. From construction of new housing to transportation projects, and frankly every aspect of day-to-day living, the importance of WaterFix to Southern California’s 22 million residents can’t be understated.

Third, taxpayers will need to consider additional investments, statewide and local, at the ballot box.

California voters will be asked in 2018 to consider additional investments in regional and local projects. In June, voters will decide whether to borrow $4 billion to fund new neighborhood parks, drinking water and drought preparedness projects, and flood protection. Subsequently, in November, voters may also be asked to approve an additional $8.9 billion water bond to fund safe drinking water, statewide repairs to major infrastructure, and additional drought solutions, pending the bond’s qualification onto the ballot. Our organization will be studying both measures closely, carefully considering the proposed expenditures marked against any existing funds that are available to the state for such investments.

All told, 2018 may be a tough year but also undoubtedly holds the potential for historic investments in California water. While it’s difficult to predict the weather future, we do have the ability to better prepare.

As published in the Desert Sun by Charlie Wilson on January 21, 2018
Original URL: https://www.desertsun.com/story/opinion/contributors/valley-voice/2018/01/21/preparing-californias-unpredictable-water-future/1050263001/