Memo to lawmakers: Our future demands good water infrastructure

A cement pipe near the Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant. (Photo: Sundry Photography)

The record heat wave as well as the threat of wildfires and historic drought are reminders that climate change is shaping our future. These reminders are requiring new ways of preparedness to combat the challenges facing California.

In recent weeks, high temperatures and an unprecedented power demand caused California Gov. Gavin Newsom to call for a Flex Alert, a state of emergency.

Additionally, just a few weeks earlier, the governor held a press conference to share his long-term vision to support California’s water supply, sounding the alarm that our state’s supply will shrink by 10 percent given the continuation of warmer and drier conditions.

The need for a safe and reliable source of water will continue well into the future.

The timing of both emergencies just so happened to align with the start of National Preparedness Month, which is designed to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time.

While emergency responses are the focus of media reports today, we have a responsibility to look to the future. We must work hard to prioritize preparedness and actions that ensure the service reliability of our major infrastructure. It is critical that we have the tools necessary to prepare for any type of emergency, and better yet, avoid them when possible.

Today, Californians have a reasonable expectation that our lights will remain on and water will continue to flow. However, as the state’s population continues to grow, temperatures rise and rainfall declines, demand is growing and supply is not keeping pace. By most indications, this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

This is why California’s investor-owned water providers remain focused on delivering safe, reliable, and affordable water service to 7 million people; essential to sustaining communities, the economy, and our food supply. All this is at risk as California experiences the third straight year of severe drought, the driest period in 1,200 years.

We cannot wait for frequent electrical blackouts or ongoing severe water rationing conditions to take action.

Just as California is preparing its electrical grid to provide 90% clean energy by 2035, our state leaders must also look to future investments in water infrastructure. The need for a safe and reliable source of water will continue well into the future, underscoring the need for investing in a modern infrastructure system today.

Much of California’s water infrastructure system was constructed decades ago, and while reliable, it is not infallible. On Sept. 6, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California began emergency repairs on its Upper Feeder pipeline, requiring millions of Southern Californians to suspend outdoor watering for up to 15 days.

Whether it is California’s electrical grid or water systems, California’s fate and the security of its people are dependent on the investments in infrastructure that are made today. We cannot wait for frequent electrical blackouts or ongoing severe water rationing conditions to take action. We must act now and be proactive in the upgrade and replacement of California’s aging infrastructure.

State leaders, along with officials at the California Public Utilities Commission, have an opportunity to support investor-owned water utilities by ensuring they are well positioned to continue providing reliable, clean, and safe drinking water to millions.

Let us continue building on the California spirit by investing in a reliable future.

Editor’s Note:  Jennifer Capitolo is the executive director of the California Water Association, a leading trade association that represents more than 90 regulated water utilities across California serving more than 7 million customers.

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