Droughts are a fact of life in California and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Yet somehow we don’t seem capable of preparing for them. We are now in the second year of severe drought, and much of California’s agriculture, especially in the Central Valley, is facing devastation.
The State Water Resources Control Board will soon vote on an “emergency curtailment” order that will prevent thousands of the state’s farmers from using major rivers and streams to irrigate their farms. Cutbacks on this scale are unprecedented and will affect our food supply.
California agriculture produces one-third of the country’s vegetables, two-thirds of its fruits and nuts, and generates about $50 billion in annual revenue. We are the nation’s breadbasket, but this bounty is endangered by a lack of political will to build the water storage and conveyance facilities we so obviously need.
This could have all been avoided. In 2014 voters approved a $7.1 billion water bond, which included $2.7 billion earmarked for new dams and reservoirs, but few projects are underway. California’s largest dams and reservoirs were built before 1979, and most were built between 1945 and 1968, when the state’s population was less than half its current size. One new dam, the Sites Reservoir, is moving forward, but construction is unlikely to begin before 2024.
I have consistently supported and introduced legislation to expand and modernize the state’s water infrastructure. The needs of agriculture and our population centers can be met, even during droughts, but policies must be adopted that allow us to take full advantage of our scarce water resources. We need more storage, conveyance, reclamation and desalination facilities. And we need them to come online quickly.
But first, we must develop the political will to build them.