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Forget it, Jake

12 August 2014 By Kevin Allison

California’s latest water fix is a drop in the proverbial bucket. Governor Jerry Brown and top lawmakers on Monday proposed a $7 billion bond to fund work on the drought-hit state’s pipes and reservoirs. That, though, would cover just a fraction of what’s needed to bolster the state’s rickety water infrastructure.

There’s no guarantee the bond will even happen. California’s politicians can only recommend the bond; citizens have to approve it at the polls. This current attempt is a compromise to replace a $11.1 billion deal agreed to in 2009. That has twice been pulled from the ballot after fears voters would reject it as being too big and full of unnecessary pet projects.

Such pork is hard to avoid as a result of the many conflicting claims to the scarce resource. Water has been a source of conflict in California at least since Los Angeles started diverting water to the city over 100 years ago. Roman Polanski’s neo-noir 1930s-set masterpiece, Chinatown, brought such water disputes to the big screen.

Many of these are now resurfacing three years into a record-breaking drought. People are questioning how much water should be allocated to farming, which uses 80 percent of the state’s developed water, according to the Pacific Institute; how much water should be diverted to sprawling coastal cities; and how much damage is being done to the environment.

The $7 billion bond would help address aging infrastructure – epitomized by a 20-million-gallon leak after a 1958 water main ruptured in Los Angeles recently. Smart investments in big freshwater basins like the San Joaquin River Delta, and underground aquifers and reservoirs, would all help make the next drought less severe.

But these would take years to fix. And none of the bonds under discussion goes far enough. As much as $30 billion is needed over the next decade to ensure the wet stuff flows smoothly and efficiently, according to a report earlier this year by the Public Policy Institute of California. A study two years ago by the American Society of Civil Engineers put that figure at $46 billion.

Better solutions are required, from conserving more water to applying new technology. Until that happens, California’s thirst for water security will go unquenched.


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