Imagine if California had not built a new school since 1979, even though the population has increased by more than 15.5 million. That’s the approach our state has taken with our water infrastructure since the last new reservoir was built. The dams we do have are working overtime for flood control right now, but we need the ability to store the water too.
Water is life for California and its economy. In 2014, the drought cost the state more than $2.2 billion and nearly 17,000 jobs. Even with the recent rains, we’re still mired in a multi-year drought. California can’t afford to ignore its water needs any longer.
Conservation has been the primary approach pushed by Sacramento leadership and there has been significant progress on that front — with some water districts cutting their consumption by as much as 35 percent.
But we know that is not a real solution because the water needs of this state are much more serious than Band-Aid remedies. Drought-tolerant landscaping and shorter showers are good things to pursue, but it does nothing to change the reality that we simply don’t have enough room to store the water we have in our rivers and streams.
It’s common sense to store as much water as possible to use when our state needs it.
With recent storms bringing record rainfall to the state, California once again missed an opportunity to capture billions of gallons of water to help ease the drought. As the rains flooded waterways, rivers and creeks in Northern California, a lack of storage meant much of that water flowed out to the ocean.
Now more than ever, we needed to capture that water to use once the rains stop. The lack of preparation and investment in water infrastructure will further hurt our vital agricultural industry.
In 2014, voters approved a $7.5 billion bond to improve California’s water infrastructure, with $2.7 billion to new water storage projects. While it doesn’t specify which projects will be funded, the Sites Reservoir north of Sacramento and Temperance Flat near Fresno are two prime candidates.
Led by Assemblyman Gallagher, we led 13 state lawmakers on a bipartisan tour of the Sites Reservoir project in order to build momentum for Sites and help educate our colleagues on the project benefits.
The Sites Reservoir project would add up to 500,000 acre-feet to the state’s water system annually — enough to serve 1.2 million families for one year. Because Sites would store needed water off-stream, the project has broad support from the local community. Once built, Sites would hold enough water to produce nearly 80 million tons of tomatoes or 800 million boxes of lettuce.
If Sites had been in place to capture the rain from the most recent storms the last couple weeks, about 300,000 acre-feet could have been captured and stored.
We hope policymakers and stakeholders understand the importance of moving forward with these critical projects as quickly as possible in order to prevent more economic damage from these missed opportunities.
There are no guarantees that it will continue to rain this winter. Last year the weather was promising, but the pattern changed quickly, and we had to endure another dry year. California needs to invest in projects to store water for when the weather is not favorable for our significant.
Both Sites and Temperance Flat will protect our state’s ability to irrigate our farms and supply our homes. We can’t afford to wait any longer to get these projects underway.