Report shows the way for California water policy

California's water policy - so often characterised by intense political and legal confrontation - could be changing in favour of a more sustainable use of water.

Most of the attention directed to solving California’s problems in recent years has focused on state or federally funded programmes like CALFED – the blueprint to restore ecological health in the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But the state’s water landscape is actually being reshaped at the regional and local level, a major new Pacific Institute report claims.

Sustainable Use of Water: California Success Stories features 28 water ‘success stories’ from across the state.

“Collectively these case studies suggest that the old ways of doing business are being replaced by new approaches that are restoring our environment, making more efficient use of our water resources, and saving governments, corporations, farmers and the public tremendous amounts of money,” said Peter Gleick, President of the Institute and one of the authors of the report.

The report claims that official state water policies now lag behind – rather than define – local watershed and community actions. Among the success stories highlighted in the study are:

  • A collaboration between the Mono Lake Committee and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to replace water supplies lost to LADWP as a result of litigation to stop diversions from Mono Lake tributaries. Through methods such as funding conservation programmes by irrigation districts, water recycling, and rebates for ultra-low-flow toilets, LADWP will ultimately be able to make up for all of the water lost from the Mono Basin;
  • A water conservation programme set up by the Naval Aviation Depot, North Island, in San Diego that reduced annual water use by 90% between 1987 and 1997;
  • The West Basin Municipal Water District’s water recycling project, which is ultimately expected to reduce dependence on imported water by 50%, providing over 12Mm3/year of water, as well as reducing treated wastewater discharges by the city of Los Angeles into Santa Monica Bay by 25%.

“These success stories provide a roadmap for CALFED and other water management programmes in the state, helping us to put the water wars behind us and ushering in a new era of sustainable use of water that can serve as a model throughout the nation,” said Project Director, Arlene Wong.

The report goes on to recommend that critical water planning efforts in the future need to identify and involve stakeholders as early as possible. Any effort to split water stakeholders into ‘special interest groups’ should be resisted.

Environmental and economic goals should also be seen as compatible rather than conflicting, the report says. For some water policymakers, meeting ecological water needs is often thought of as a ‘win-lose’ situation where water used to protect the environment must be ‘taken’ from another user. Several case studies in the report present ‘win-win’ situations, where environmental and other water needs are being met simultaneously.

The report, over 400 pages in length and two years in preparation, was funded by foundations, water organisations, and the Pacific Institute’s research fund. The Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment & Security is an independent, non-profit research group based in Oakland, California. Tel: + 1 510 251 1600. Fax: + 1 510 251 2203.

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