Dampening growth

Today, Snow and McIntyre discuss ways to reconcile California's projected population growth and the state's limited water supply. Previously, they debated the political urgency of fixing the state's water crisis and the proposed peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Tomorrow and Friday, they'll discuss desalination and measures to reduce water consumption.
Better land use, better water use

California will continue to grow as long it is seen as a land of opportunity. Partially because of economic and social pressures elsewhere, this perception -- and reality -- of California will continue to act as a magnet for millions of people.


Our challenge is to provide water -- a clean, reliable supply -- to protect our natural environment, the health of our people and our economy.

In the 1960s, when the State Water Project was under construction, Department of Water Resources Director William E. Warne noted, "California's destiny is never, so long as the state grows, to resolve her water problem, but always to work at it."

The decisions we are making now -- how efficiently we use water and where we build our new communities -- dictate how much flexibility we will have in the future and what the quality of life will be for the next generation of Californians.

Most land- and water-use decisions in California are made at the local and regional levels, though rarely is such decision-making integrated. For example, land-use planning that encourages low-density development greatly increases per-capita water demand. Such development patterns also inevitably lead to more dependence on automobiles, which are the largest source of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions in California. The resulting climate changes will make it more difficult to maintain reliable water supplies.

Low-density development imposes other costs as well -- it is generally more costly and difficult to provide flood protection for sprawling suburbs, and this growth reduces the availability of agricultural land. In all, such land uses threaten our water-supply reliability and are costly in many other ways. Land use and water planning must be better integrated to ensure that we make informed resource management decisions.

The bottom line: Good land-use planning and water management can help secure our future.

The statewide participation of cities and counties in the development of Integrated Regional Water Management plans is the best way to address water issues today in a way that will have positive benefits for the future. Successful IRWM planning increases regional self-sufficiency through the implementation of regionally appropriate water resource strategies, thereby assuring the quantity and quality of water for future generations of Californians.

The water choices we make today matter.

Lester Snow is director of the California Department of Water Resources.

A promising solution from Sacramento

Given the state of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the Colorado River drought, groundwater contamination and climate change, current California laws are not enough to accommodate growth without risking water reliability for existing residents, the economy and the environment. This is especially true for disadvantaged communities that already struggle with water reliability but cannot afford the necessary upgrades to adapt to climate change.

At the same time, California will need to accommodate millions more residents in the coming decades, with most of the increase coming from in-state births.

With all of this pressure on water resources, we are already experiencing some effects on our economy. Some communities are holding up growth based on the effect development would have on the reliability of their water supply. Citing uncertainties with delta water supplies, a community in Riverside County rejected a large development, including a huge Sketchers shoe warehouse, in January.

In other areas of the state, water agencies continue to approve development even though water supplies are clearly unreliable. This puts all residents and businesses in such areas at risk and increases pressure on the environment.

Californians recently experienced the fallout of placing too much demand on limited energy resources. Our water supplies are affected in the same way. More demand on the system can mean less water-supply reliability. As with energy, when water supplies are over-tapped, disadvantaged communities that have the oldest and least efficient infrastructure are the hardest hit when rates go up and shortages occur. Water efficiency and new technologies, including water recycling and groundwater remediation, can restore reliability if they are implemented when growth occurs.

The good news is that pending legislation, AB 2153 by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank), would keep the economy going while protecting water reliability. It would accomplish this by tapping into the enormous potential of water efficiency and other locally based supplies. AB 2153 would require developers to incorporate all feasible water efficiencies into their projects. Developers would then have to fully mitigate whatever remaining demand their projects create.

Mitigation would be accomplished through implementation of efficiencies in existing housing or by producing proven and highly reliable local water supplies. AB 2153, endorsed by the Planning and Conservation League and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, would ensure that disadvantaged communities are not left behind, directing a portion of the mitigation to upgrades and replacement of leaky pipes in such communities.

By allowing new water demands to be fully mitigated with cost-effective, environmentally sound projects, Krekorian is promoting an equitable path that would allow California to accommodate new development while maintaining water reliability to existing residents.

This bill also has the advantage of ensuring that existing ratepayers would not be further burdened by the cost of accommodating new growth. AB 2153 provides a key mechanism for implementing the governor's recent call for a 20% per-capita reduction in water use by 2020 without the need for additional bond funds. This is the type of solution California should be implementing.

Mindy McIntyre is the Planning and Conservation League's water program manager.

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