A drought-fighting strategy: ‘All of the above’

Islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, an aerial view. The Delta is home to about half of California's drinking water. (Photo: Worldislandinfo.com

For the first time in California history, Governor Brown issued a mandatory water use reduction due to the unprecedented drought. The record low precipitation and mandatory rationing reinforce that we must do everything possible to prepare for a future where droughts and extreme weather will be more common.

That includes increased conservation and enhancing local water supplies by expanding water storage facilities, investing in water recycling, and better stormwater runoff capture and reuse, among other strategies.

The new water pipeline is intended to make sure we’re more efficiently moving water during droughts.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group and its nearly 400-member-companies, like so many other organizations and individuals, supports an “all of the above” strategy where we must focus on a variety of local, regional and state solutions to make maximum use of limited water supplies. As part of the newly formed Californians for Water Security, we support moving forward with Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), a bold strategy to ensure our state is making the most of our limited water supplies.

That’s why we are disappointed to see certain groups opposing the plan to build a modern water pipeline to fix California’s aging statewide water distribution infrastructure. Ironically, these groups are using the drought to question the viability of this plan, claiming that because the improved system will not move additional water supplies during drought years, it is not feasible or not worth doing.

That argument is off point. Addressing our water shortages requires significant investment to fix the outdated system that delivers water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to two thirds of the state, including the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California. The new water pipeline is intended to make sure we’re more efficiently moving water during droughts.

But, the real value of the water pipeline comes in years where rains are plenty. The new system will allow us to move more water in wet years than we can with today’s outdated infrastructure. The pipeline will better allow us take abundant rains and replenish groundwater basins, fill up reservoirs, and otherwise recharge our existing water supplies when we actually have water.

The current levee and pump system exacerbates problems when we have abundant rains and millions of acre feet of rain water are carried out to sea when we could safely capture that water for future use. In fact, according to water experts, we were unable to capture more than 4 million acre feet of water in recent years due to various restrictions in place at a time when water was plentiful.

We cannot sit by and accept the status quo. The fact is that the current water distribution system through the Delta is outdated and unreliable. This system of aging levees and canals will collapse in the event of an earthquake or flood. This system of dirt levees and large pumps that redirect water in unnatural flows has harmed the Delta environment, which has led to major water supply reductions, especially in drought years.

The BDCP was drafted after eight years of extensive scientific review and analysis by state and federal agencies, local water districts, and many water experts and conservationists. It would protect water supplies by delivering them through a modern water pipeline rather than relying solely on the Delta’s deteriorating dirt levees.

Not only will the BDCP reliably deliver water to people and businesses, it will also protect water supplies for the environment, fish and wildlife. Moving vital water infrastructure below ground will restore more natural water flows above ground in rivers and streams in order to reduce impacts on endangered fish and other wildlife. The plan provides a healthier ecosystem to allow fish and wildlife to thrive once again.

California needs to pursue an “all of the above” approach when it comes to increasing local water supplies. Central to that is fixing our outdated and broken water distribution system.

Ed’s Note: Mike Mielke is the Senior Vice President for Environment & Energy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

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