Has California Had the Same Water Infrastructure Since the 1960s?


U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, has called solving California’s water wars one of the toughest challenges of her career. She says California’s water infrastructure is outdated and its drought emergency persists. To help mitigate the problem, she has spearheaded a bill (link to: https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s2533/BILLS-114s2533is.pdf) that would pump $1.3 billion into water desalination, recycling and storage projects to provide short-term water supplies to drought-stricken California and provide for long-term investments in drought resiliency.

In discussing the need for the bill, Sen. Feinstein commented that California has “the same water infrastructure from when we were 16 million people.” It was around 1960 when California’s population hovered at the 16 million mark. California is now home to nearly 40 million people. Does California currently rely on a generations-old water system without substantial upgrades?

Jay Lund, director for the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis concurs with Feinstein’s assessment that California’s core water conveyance and storage infrastructure was designed more than a half century ago.

It was in the late 1950s and early 1960s that construction began on the State Water Project—a massive set of reservoirs, aqueducts and pumping plants that store and deliver water up and down the state to 25 million Californians. The backbone of the project, including Lake Oroville and the California Aqueduct, was finished in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Lund said California hasn’t built anything as large since then, although some of the state’s major water districts have independently added “some important pieces” of storage and conveyance in the last couple of decades. Southern California is home to two important pieces that help to supplement regional supplies. Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County, completed in 2000 by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is the largest reservoir in Southern California, holding up to 800,000 acre-feet of water. And the $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination Project, completed in 2105 by private firm Poseidon Water, is now converting ocean water into drinking water for residents in San Diego County. It’s expected to contribute up to 10 percent of the region’s water supply.

Still, it’s clear that California has not constructed any new statewide water projects to match the scale of those of started in the 1960s. California’s water system is “not exactly the same,” as the early 1960s, Lund explained.  “But it’s substantially the same in terms of the broad water supply and flood control projects.”

Source: Politifact California