While both major candidates for governor may be choosing to ignore water issues during the fall campaign, that cannot be the case when the winner assumes office in January.

California’s water policy is on a collision course with economic reality while the threat of climate changes looms. Water supplies are becoming increasingly scarce, more expensive and less reliable for residents, businesses and farms. Water policy decisions could well determine the long-term success of the fifth largest economy in the world and the quality of life for California residents. The fate of the rural Central Valley’s food production industry, which provides a critical source of employment for the region, not to mention a major source of safe and affordable food for our state and nation, also hangs in the balance.

The state’s current water management and regulatory approach is increasingly unable to meet both ecological and human needs. A more sustainable approach that appropriately balances the human, social and economic consequences of regulatory actions with those of the environment and species is desperately needed. The highly controversial discussion currently taking place at the State Water Resources Control Board (Board) over “unimpaired flows” is a prime example.

State water regulators seem hell-bent on further restricting water supplies for residents, businesses and farms throughout the state to provide more water for the environment. This monumental change will harm communities from the Bay Area to the Central Valley and all of Southern California. Water managers and elected officials from San Francisco to Modesto to Los Angeles have all argued for a more sustainable ecosystem management approach that seeks to address the multiple stressors that impact the Delta estuary. So far, the Board has ignored this approach in favor of greatly restricting water supplies by 40 percent or more, ignoring the significant economic destruction it will cause. It also ignores the basic fact that increased flows over the last two decades have not benefitted declining fish populations. Simply put, more flow will not equal more fish.

In light of this mounting urgency, following are a few critical initial actions for the next Governor to take on water issues:

  1. Appoint officials who understand the need to develop and implement balanced approaches to water management that benefit both the environment and the economy.
  2. Develop a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to the Delta through ecosystem management. Prioritize actions to address habitat restoration, invasive species and predation in the Delta, as well as the multitude of other stressors that impact the estuary.
  3. Build on the current collaborative science efforts among stakeholders and agencies. Expand the most productive work to address the wide array of stressors impacting the Delta ecosystem and fisheries.
  4. Continue to work at the local, regional, and state levels to expand infrastructure and create new, more reliable water supplies through increased recycling, conservation, desalination, storm water capture and storage projects.
  5. Ensure that all Californians have access to safe, clean and reliable sources of drinking water.

Water has played a very significant role in California’s development. It will play an equally critical role in the future of the Golden State. Securing a safe, clean and reliable water supply for future generations will not come easily, but like the generation before us, we must leave a better water system for the next generation. The next Governor must be prepared to provide the leadership necessary to take bold actions on water policy – all with a sense of urgency. California residents deserve no less.