Los Angeles has begun a historic drive to decrease its dependence on imported water. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the state’s precarious water switching station and the key to the survival not only of salmon and other threatened species but of the state’s agriculture industry, is in crisis. California is in the midst of a continuing drought. It is hard to fathom a higher priority than safeguarding the state’s precious water resources, or a more crucial time to do it. That means an investment in the form of a carefully crafted water bond.
Lawmakers in Sacramento representing various factions in the water debate are squabbling over what to include in a bond they submit to voters on the November ballot, or whether to just scrap the whole thing and wait for a better time. There will probably be no better time. They should send voters a bond.
Oddly, the main sticking point is disagreement over the proposal to build twin tunnels in the delta to divert Sacramento River water south. In fact, there is not one drop of funding in any version of the bond, nor will there be, to construct or operate the Bay Delta Conservation Plan project. Lawmakers who have allowed the bond to become a proxy fight over the tunnels should refocus. There is indeed a separate debate in progress over delta water exports, but California and especially Los Angeles need a bond precisely because they need alternative or at least parallel investments in projects that boost regional self-sufficiency and decrease reliance on imported water.
Los Angeles needs a bond to help clean up the groundwater basin in the San Fernando Valley to make water caught and stored there safe and useful. It needs a bond to boost recycling projects. It needs a bond for, yes, the Los Angeles River, to ensure that the restoration effort provides more than just the nice amenity of a mid-city waterfront, but is also an ecologically sound project centered on storm-water recapture and actually puts to use water that would otherwise rush to the ocean. It needs a bond to bring 21st century technology to efficiency projects, to get more and better use out of less water. Other areas of California need a bond for the same reasons. And all of those investments will reduce, not increase, demands on the delta.
The narrative of north-versus-south water wars of the previous century remains powerful in the imagination, but it is long outdated. Californians in all parts of the state must help one another take less. Lawmakers should send them a bond that furthers that goal.