Nearly three years after voters approved $2.7 billion for new water storage projects in California, a glimmer of hope may be on the horizon. Twelve new water storage proposals were recently submitted to the California Water Commission competing for the money. As expected, there is more demand than money available. All 12 projects would cost more than $13 billion to build and are seeking more than $5.6 billion in grant funding, or twice what is available.
It is no secret California’s investment in additional water storage capacity has not kept up with the ever-growing demand of a rapidly expanding population, let alone increasing environmental requirements of fish and wildlife. As a result, billions upon billions of gallons of water have been lost in wet years like the one we just had. Without additional storage capacity to capture peak run-off, that water just flowed out to sea.
In fact, a recent study by University of California, Davis took a look at high-magnitude streamflow – that is flow events that cannot be captured, similar to this Winter’s storms. The results found that there is enough extra surface water available during these high flow events to mitigate long-term groundwater overdraft in the Central Valley. The study goes on to say that increased operational flexibility, through projects such as Sites Reservoir and the California WaterFix, is crucial to capitalizing on abundant flows and maximizing groundwater recharge.
The need is real. The plans to build more storage are solid. And, not surprisingly, the public overwhelmingly supports more water storage capacity. Recent polling by Fairbank, Maslin Maulin Metz and Associates (FM3) shows 69% of California voters support more storage for current needs and a full 78% supports more capacity for future needs. Only nine percent of voters believe the state has enough water storage capacity. Equally important, 73% of California voters believe the state should be investing more in additional water storage infrastructure.
Hopefully, the California Water Commission will now move a little faster to get the long-overdue funding out the door. The need and support for more storage capacity is clear. The Legislature should also get moving to set aside even more funding for additional storage capacity to meet future demands and address groundwater overdraft. And let’s not forget the California WaterFix—a crucial component to upgrading our broken water system and making water available to the environment and all families and businesses.
One thing that should be crystal clear to policymakers – when the funding flows, so will the water. And more water in the system benefits everyone: fish, farms, residents and our economy. It is obviously time for policymakers to pour it on!