California’s water management always has been challenging and complicated. Like much of the state’s infrastructure, above-ground storage is aging, groundwater basins are becoming depleted, wells are going dry, and lands are sinking.
Climate change is further stressing the state’s water supply system by warming temperatures, shrinking snowpack, and creating shorter and more intense storm systems and more frequent droughts and wet years.
Some areas of the state have depended at least partially on reclaimed or reused water, desalination, and restrictions in water use by individuals and industry. We have gone from the days of low-flow toilets and showerheads to iPad-controlled agricultural water delivery systems.
There are problems with each of these practices, ranging from difficulties in sustaining water- use restrictions, to the lack of an effective desalination program to scale plants based on population needs, to the varying costs of each of these efforts.
More than 1,500 local water districts control water use and development, some better funded than others. A system of water entitlement going back generations determines who has the right to the water and therefore the control to set priorities. There is ongoing competition between urban and agricultural uses. All of these hinder the ability to make difficult decisions.
For several decades, Californians have approved bond funding to help expand watershed protection, storage systems, and demand-management programs. The state has not provided money to help communities operate better water systems in the Central Valley, where a number of smaller, low-income communities pay for expensive new systems with loans and grants but cannot generate the revenue to operate those systems. The governor and the legislature are considering a small tax on water use to provide funding to those communities.