Cancel OK

California gets serious about water

Maybe Californians will have to give up their lawns.

That’s one tiny part of the new water policy recommendations issued this month under the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom.

The administration “is working to accelerate the transition of turf to landscapes that use less water.” The state wants to convert 500 million square feet of ornamental turf by 2030.

Larger objectives, according to the report, entitled California’s Water Supply Strategy: Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future:

• Create storage space for up to 4 million acre-feet of water, allowing us to capitalize on big storms when they do occur and store water for dry periods
• Recycle and reuse at least 800,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2030, enabling better and safer use of wastewater currently discharged to the ocean
• Free up 500,000 acre-feet of water through more efficient water use and conservation, helping make up for water lost due to climate change
• Make new water available for use by capturing stormwater and desalinating ocean water and salty water in groundwater basins, diversifying supplies and making the most of high flows during storm events.

Other objectives include expanding Merced County’s San Luis Reservoir by 135,000 acre-feet; rehabilitating dams to regain storage capacity (at present, the “less than satisfactory” state of 112 state dams have created a 350,000 acre-feet loss of storage); and reducing urban demand (hence the elimination of ornamental turf).

richard smoley produce blueprints

Agricultural groups have responded affirmatively to the new initiative.

“We applaud Governor Newsom’s bold and comprehensive water infrastructure and management strategy,” says Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers Association BB #:144734. “Our farms are in distress due to water insecurity, increasingly placing millions of Californians in our agricultural regions at great risk of economic harm.

“To adapt to climate realities,” Puglia continues, “the Governor’s plan recognizes the urgent need to build new and improve existing infrastructure and to streamline and improve the practicality of the regulatory processes that govern them. Critically, that means new and expanded surface and groundwater storage to capture wet year flood flows that are too infrequent to be missed.

“While we have only seen this plan for the first time today and are certain to have many questions about it, Governor Newsom has given us reason to move forward with optimism. This is clearly not just nibbling around the edges. We echo the Governor’s sense of urgency and look forward to working with his administration in good faith to turn this plan into action.”

Ian LeMay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, agrees:

“We appreciate the efforts the Newsom Administration has taken to address the critical need for water investments to guarantee the continued sustainability of California agriculture. This plan recognizes the need to expand on existing surface and groundwater infrastructure while streamlining the process to get construction started on new storage projects.

“Every person in our state, nation, and world relies on agriculture,” LeMay adds, “and the Association appreciates Governor Newsom’s action to ensure that California continues to be able to have a safe and resilient food supply. Our state and industry cannot survive without a reliable water resource.”

Can California fulfill such grand ambitions? Its huge and magnificent water supply system is one of the greatest engineering achievements of world civilization.

If they did it once, they can do it again.

Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.