Personnel Profile: Leslie Friedman-Johnson

How did you become interested in water policy? What is your background?

I’ve been interested since the late 1980s. I got involved working for the Nature Conservancy, where I was working on river protection. I received a phone call from Senator Bill Bradley, who was looking for people to work on the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which reallocated water in California.

How will Proposition 84’s passage affect how our state manages its water resources?

So far it hasn’t, because none of that money has been appropriated for spending yet. I think the most significant piece of Prop. 84, in terms of how it influences how we manage water, is that Prop. 84 provides a billion dollars for integrated regional water-management programs.

We have had a very low rainfall this year. There’s been roughly 12 inches in Sacramento and less than 3 inches in Los Angeles. Are we officially in a drought?

I don’t know what the official threshold for a drought is, but I think that we should always be working to conserve water. It’s a precious resource in California. Whether or not we are in a drought today, we could be in one tomorrow. I think we need to be moving toward better water-efficiency measures so we can improve how we use our water and how we conserve it.

What will be the impact on Californians if this persists next year?

We have had an unusual run of wet years and people have forgotten how precious water is. If it persists, it will be in the news and some places will be forced to cut back. I think it will help us get smarter about how we manage what we’ve done.

Is global warming having an impact on our water-storage needs?

I think global warming is having an impact on how we look at water in every aspect all the way around. Our rainfall will be affected. It’s also going to have an impact on how dry it is, as well. Most importantly, water supply and water management is the single largest major employment entity in the state, so how we manage water has effects on climate change on the front end, not just on the back end.

Water policy often is described as one of the most complex policy areas in state government. If you had to simplify the issue down to one take-home lesson for lawmakers, what would you say?

That’s a tough one, because the issue is very complex. I think one of the most important strategies we have for lawmakers is that we need to look at all of our water needs, we need to look at water quality and water supply, environmental water, waste water, all these different water issues, together. We really need to look across the sector at all the issues, and treat them in an integrated way.

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