The reason why? California’s water supply is overly dependent on two highly at-risk sources: runoff from mountain snowpack and groundwater.
|Groundwater storage changes in California from 2003-2010. From the GRL paper by Famiglietti et al, 2011. Blue line shows overall decreasing trend, about 3 cubic kilometers per year. Red line shows piecewise trends, and that most of the depletion occurred during the drought of 2006-2010. Link: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/02/04/epic-california-drought-and-groundwater-where-do-we-go-from-here/|
So, after the federal emergency funds are spent, what should we do to start investing in California’s long-term water security?
Diversify: California water providers must develop more resilient local supplies. This means investments in technologies like efficiency and water reuse that make existing supplies go farther. It also means developing new storage systems like aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), which makes use of groundwater aquifers as underground reservoirs to store water until it’s needed. For ASR to work, groundwater must be regulated—otherwise there is no assurance that someone else won’t pump the water before you can reclaim your investment.
Price: Water is notoriously underpriced (and groundwater not at all). Most of the attention on water rates usually gets paid to agriculture, where water users are paying as little as $6 for every acre-foot of water (equal to around 325,000 gallons). But even though urban areas account for only 10% of all water used in California, there are still huge gains to be made in using pricing to reduce wasteful water use. Public water providers are too often constrained in their ability to convey pricing signals, thanks to Proposition 218, which has been used to overturn conservation-incentivizing water rate structures. To overcome this obstacle, water providers need to be more transparent about the avoided capital costs of new supply that are being “priced-in” to rate structures. This should be a top priority of the California Urban Water Conservation Council, which is now revisiting its Best Management Practices for urban water pricing.
Share: Farming accounts for some 75% of the state’s water use. There’s no way of getting around the reality that California’s water security depends on moving some water from farming to other users, including cities and the environment. But the vitality of California’s farming industry also has to be protected. Half of America’s fruits and vegetables are raised in California. And some of America’s most well-known food brands depend on California’s agriculture: 30 percent of the world’s processing tomatoes, used by companies like Campbell Soup, for example, come from California.
These are steps that must be taken by Californians, and supported by companies and investors with an economic interest in California. At stake is the food security of a nation, and the financial vitality of corporations all over the world.
Sharlene Leurig is director of the sustainable water infrastructure program at Ceres. Ceres is a nonprofit organization mobilizing business and investor leadership on global sustainability challenges. Follow her on Twitter @sleurig and learn more about Ceres at www.ceres.org/valuingeverydrop.