Most of us take it for granted, but a reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable water supply is not only important for our environment, it's the foundation of California’s enormous and diverse economy. Today, our water supply is in grave jeopardy.
We currently are in the midst of a drought that has made us much more aware of the fragility of our water system. California’s farms, businesses and communities are all feeling the effect of three years of ongoing drought. Over the longer term, in order for our state to grow and to preserve our quality of life, California must find more effective ways to manage our water supply.
Our current situation has resulted in widespread water supply reductions and water rationing in most California communities. Water for thousands of farms has been severely curtailed or cut off entirely. Commercial salmon fishing has been completely shut down for two years. Tens of thousands of Californians – from farm workers to fishermen – are out of work. Experts have warned this is just a taste of what the state can expect if it doesn’t act now to protect our water system.
Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers lie at the heart of our state water supply system. The place where these two rivers meet is called the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. River water flows through the Delta to the San Francisco Bay. Like a patient with heart failure, in almost every way, this complex water system is in immediate crisis.
The delta ecosystem, a world-class estuary – and a natural treasure akin to Lake Tahoe or the Florida Everglades – is collapsing. Fish that once numbered in the millions are close to extinction. The water that is used to supply 24 million Californians south of the delta is polluted by pesticides, urban runoff and other contaminants. Scientists, Blue Ribbon Panels, and public policy experts all tell us that the hundreds of miles of levees that protect the state's water and constitute basic plumbing that feeds our farms and our cities could collapse with a sea level rise, natural disaster or a ship collision.
California cannot stake its economic and environmental future on this house of cards, making the status quo unacceptable. In addition, inaction increases the risk of catastrophe and further environmental degradation. Now is not the time for delay and indecision.
California has spent years, if not decades, talking about these issues. We’ve conducted studies, convened stakeholder groups and experimented with a range of options. In the Legislature, we've held hearings, written legislation, established legislative select committees, convened special legislative sessions, and held many, many press conferences.
The time for all of that has now passed, and it’s now time to take action and to get it done.
The Legislature has assembled the first truly comprehensive legislative water package in years – bills that address the crisis in the Delta, set enforceable statewide standards for water conservation, increase water supply reliability, restore the delta ecosystem, provide new governance and finance the entire package.
In short it is the most comprehensive package of water legislation in the last 50 years, since Pat Brown and the Legislature approved the state water project in the 1960's.
The effort up to this point has included 12 hearings over the past nine months, including two half-day hearings just last week. The package of bills has been reviewed in some form in policy committee, in joint policy hearings and in informational hearings. Several of the bills included in the package have passed at least one house of the Legislature. In addition, drafts of the bills have been put in print and made universally available to the public online and in print.
For the first seven months of this year, Speaker Bass and Senate President pro Tem Steinberg set up bipartisan/bicameral working groups of key legislators that met twice weekly, heard from an array of water experts and the Administration's water staff. The authors of these bills also convened meetings and drafting sessions to hear from all stakeholders and work on their concerns. In total, many, many hours have been spent on getting the state and this legislative package to this point.
Everyone involved shares the common and urgent goal of responding California’s water challenges, and the collateral affect they have had on the state’s economy and environment. The conference committee, and the Legislature as a whole, will spend the next week determining if it can bridge regional and stakeholder differences for the greater good of the state of California and its people.