When it comes to rebuilding and expanding vital water infrastructure, no state has a greater need than California, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
After surveying the state’s water infrastructure needs, the EPA projected it will cost more than $51 billion over 20 years for California’s water systems to continue to provide safe drinking water to the public. The EPA’s findings were reported to Congress in 2018.
California’s largest water reservoir is the snowpack that accumulates in the Sierra during the winter months, and is released into the Sacramento-San Joaquin river system as warmer weather melts the snow.
As our population increased in the 20th century, state, federal and local agencies funded and constructed dozens of dams and reservoirs to capture the melting snow and keep our rivers flowing year-round.
But the last time we saw significant state and federal investments in our water storage and delivery system was in the 1960’s, when the state’s population stood at 16 million. Today we are 39.5 million strong and growing.
Meanwhile, drought years in California are fast becoming the rule rather than the exception. In 2015, the California Department of Water Resources reported that more than 71 percent of the state was experiencing an extreme drought and in the prior year, severe drought conditions prompted California’s Governor to declare a state of emergency. Looking ahead, Southern California will have to face the worst impacts of continual drought.
Meteorologists believe that climate change will reduce the winter snowfall and increase rainfall amounts. If that proves true, the state will need more man-made storage infrastructure to capture and store seasonal rainfall.
Additional water storage statewide, either surface reservoirs or underground aquifers, is critical to helping California weather future droughts more easily.
Federal and state water officials are planning to expand major reservoirs to gain marginal increases in capacity, but we need to find funding for millions more acre-feet of new water storage, even without climate change, as the current drought cycles demonstrate.