Modernizing California’s Water Supply

Brian German Water

The pressure on California’s water supply during the recent drought was further complicated by outdated policy and antiquated infrastructure.  There are multiple projects and policies in the process of getting funded or being approved that will address some of the water needs of the state.  Executive Director for the California Water Alliance Aubrey Bettencourt explained that “we have this undersized, outdated water infrastructure system that hasn’t quite been updated since the ‘60s and ‘70s and it’s not able to keep up with our modern priorities, our modern requirements of it.”

water supplyDespite the amount of rainfall experienced last winter, it will be important to keep the water issue a leading priority to bring much-needed change to existing policies and organization.  Bettencourt believes that infrastructure and management are the two biggest components that will need to be addressed to move California water policy into the future.

The infrastructure side of the water issue is essentially a matter of storage.  Bettencourt noted that building one or two strategically placed reservoirs would relieve a significant amount of stress on other areas of the water supply.  “You would gain additional flexibility, additional storage capacity, beyond just the capacity of the infrastructure you build, or that storage project you build,” Bettencourt said.

The management side of the water supply question is the more complicated facet because there are multiple philosophies about what the best use of the state’s water is moving forward.  Competing viewpoints can become especially problematic when drafting policy and appropriate funding.  “As is most things in politics, we all can agree on the problem, it’s how you want to address it,” noted Bettencourt.

The water supply system that was originally designed before California became the fifth largest global economy, was intended for municipal and industrial water use along with agricultural use.  Using water for environmental protection is a relatively new concept that has been adopted.  “The system was never designed for that, it has not been upgraded to handle that,” said Bettencourt.

As California experienced a substantially wet winter, it now affords an opportunity to adopt more proactive water measures.  “We’re not operating under duress and we’re not operating under emergency, knee-jerk reactions.  So, this would be the critical time in which we need to invest and be then, prepared for the next flood event or the next drought event,” Bettencourt stated.